Teaching series from John

Jesus Feeds 5000+ People

John 6:1-68

Teaching t22479


Brief reminder of author as eye-witness; MAP of Palestine. This chapter reports John’s eye-witness account of one of the most dramatic of Jesus’ miracles—feeding thousands of people. It is a MIRACLE that leads to a CLAIM that provokes a REACTION. Each of these sections is full of important lessons for us.

The miracle

Read 6:1-15. This is a real miracle which feeds thousands of people (vs. “a miracle of sharing”). John was an eye-witness, reporting the place, time and “much grass” as a vivid memory. Why would the people decide that He is the Prophet and try to force Him to become their King unless He did something supernatural?

Why did Jesus perform this miracle? Partly because the people were hungry, and Jesus had compassion for them (Mk.6:34). But Jesus is the ultimate Multi-Tasker—He is doing several things at once through this miracle. He is setting stage to make a tremendous claim to the people, as we will soon see. And He is also training His disciples (6:6 says He was “testing” them, as in training). What is He teaching the disciples (and us Christians) through the way He performs this miracle?

Jesus will meet the needs of the world through us. He could have simply spoken lunches into existence on each of their laps. But Mark makes it clear that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and had His disciples distribute the food to the multitude (Mk.6:41). This is a picture of Christian ministry, which is simply giving Jesus’ life to other people as He gives us opportunities to do this.

Jesus requires our availability, not our ability. The boy’s lunch was grossly inadequate to feed the multitude—but because he made it available to Jesus for this purpose, Jesus worked through it to help people all out of proportion to its size. This is a great encouragement to those of us who want to serve others in Christ’s name, but who are small and weak and limited in so many ways. But if we give ourselves to Him, if we offer Him our time, etc., He will work through us to help people get saved and grow far beyond all we can ask or think (Eph.3:20).

Jesus will nourish us spiritually as we serve others. The twelve baskets left over are not a coincidence. “Basket” (kophinos) refers to the wicker lunch baskets that were common among working-class people. And the fact that there are twelve lunch baskets full of leftovers probably corresponds to the twelve disciples who served the food. In chapter 4, Jesus told them that serving the Samaritan woman was “food” that nourished His soul. Now He engineers an opportunity for them to experience this “food” themselves. Jesus is saying: “Give yourself away to serve others as My representatives, and I will fully meet your needs.” This counter-intuitive way of life is the path to real spiritual health and joy!

But as I said earlier, the main point of this miracle is that it is a “sign” to the people He fed. Signs are real miracles that meet specific people’s physical &/or social needs. But they have a significance beyond this. They are symbolic acts that validate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah who meets humanity’s spiritual needs. This is why, when the same crowd follows Jesus to another town and demands that He give them another free lunch, He refuses to do this. Instead, He points them to the meaning of this miracle—a claim about Himself. Because this section is so long, I’m going to summarize it into the three main points Jesus makes.

Jesus’ claim

Jesus’ first point is a warning (read 6:26,27). Their preoccupation with getting more free food from Jesus signifies a very dangerous mind-set—viewing the purpose of life as getting and enjoying God’s temporal gifts, seeking the gifts more than the Giver. The problem with this mind-set is that we are eternal, spiritual beings, having souls that require a relationship with God. Because this is true, temporal things can never satisfy us (AUGUSTINE & PASCAL QUOTES).

You have to be convinced of this before Jesus’ claim will matter to you. If you aren’t convinced, what will it take to convince you? How many new possessions do you need to acquire before you realize that the thrill always goes away? How many sexual encounters and/or romantic relationships do you have to have before you realize that they cannot heal your heart’s loneliness? How many different jobs/promotions do you need to get before you realize that they cannot give you a secure and adequate identity? How many kinds of entertainment do you need to try before you realize that they can never cure your boredom? Don’t spend your whole life going down this blind alley!

Where can we find this spiritual life, this relationship with God that will satisfy our deepest hunger? Jesus gives two related answers:

The first answer is the point of the miracle—it is Jesus Himself. Read 6:32b,33,35a. “I am the bread of life” means literally “I and I alone am the sole Source of spiritual life that can satisfy your hungry souls.” Just as only Jesus could feed them bread in the wilderness, so only Jesus can give them (and us) true spiritual life in this world. There is no other source.

The second answer is in 6:51 (read). This is a reference to Jesus’ still-future (“I will give”) death. He is saying that His life can be made available to us only through His sacrificial death for our sins. We are separated from His life because of our sins against God (“the wages of sin is death”), and only Jesus’ sinless sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sins and make us eligible to receive life (Rom.6:23).

How can we get this bread of life? Jesus says He will give it to us for free (read 6:27b)—but we must make a decision in order to actually benefit from it. He describes this choice in two ways:

We must “believe” in Him (read 6:29,35,40,47). And this believing in Him is a specific kind of belief (read 6:53-56). This has nothing to do with cannibalism (6:63) or communion (CONTEXT). Jesus is saying: “It’s not enough to just mentally agree that I am the bread of life. You have to personally receive Me and My death for your sins.”

If you were lost and starving in the wilderness, and suddenly came upon a banquet table full of food, what would you need to do to keep from starving? What if you just studied the foods and calculated their caloric and nutritional content, and concluded: “I believe that there is enough food here to rescue me from starvation?” If you “believe” only in this sense, you will surely die! No, you have believe not only in a mental sense, but also in an active sense. You would have to actually take the food into your body, so that its life-giving nutrition is released and assimilated into your body. That’s the kind of “belief” that would save your life.

That’s what you have to do with Jesus. It’s not enough to “believe” that He is God’s Son who died so that humanity can have spiritual life. If you only believe in Him in this sense, you will surely die eternally! You have to personally receive His death for your sins, and you have to personally ask Him to come into your soul. This is the kind of faith that results in spiritual and eternal life. Have you taken this step of faith? If not, will you take it now?

Their reaction

So we have seen Jesus perform this MIRACLE, and we have seen the CLAIM He makes with reference to this miracle. Now let’s look at the REACTION to His claim...

Read 6:60. These “disciples” are not just the 12; they are others who are following Jesus as (possibly) the Messiah. (Perhaps “disciples” includes the people fed by Jesus.) What is the “hard teaching” to which they refer? Maybe they’re referring specifically to Jesus’ words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But more likely He is referring to His whole teaching—His refusal to feed them again, His claim to be the true Bread they need, and His insistence that they receive His sacrificial death. They are looking for a political Messiah who would never die and give them free food—but Jesus refuses to conform to their Messianic expectations (read 6:61,62,66). He says: “What if I not only die, but also go back to heaven for a period of time?” They say: “That’s it—we’re out of here.”

There is an important lesson here for us. If you decide to follow Jesus, you should expect some “hard teachings” along the way. We all have expectations that we expect Jesus to fulfill if we follow Him. Whether we realize it or not, we all subtly want to use Him to fulfill our selfish agendas. But Jesus is not our Genie, and He won’t be taken captive by our expectations. He is the Lord, He knows the way forward, and He neither asks our permission nor apologizes for His “hard teachings.” He just calls us to trust Him and keep following Him even when this means the death of our expectations.

Can you relate to this? Here are some of the “hard teachings” Jesus has given me over the years:

“Trust My design for your sexual behavior instead of what you desire.”

“Trust My schedule for healing this part of your life—not your schedule.”

“Trust Me even if I empty your savings account.”

“Keep serving Me here even when it appears fruitless.”

“Look for your part in this conflict instead of focusing on her part.”

“Trust My plans for your children—not your plans.”

“Accept My ‘interruptions’ instead of being outraged about them.”

“Let Me break your pride and teach you humility.”

Is Jesus dishing up a “hard teaching” to you? How are you responding to it? If you refuse to accept it, He still accepts you—but the vitality of your spiritual life will begin to wither until you resolve this controversy with Him. There are people who were here in this room four or five years and excited about Jesus—but now they’re very far from Him. What happened? In most cases, it is because they stumbled over one of His “hard teachings.” But you don’t have to respond this way; you can choose to respond like Peter did.

As they walk away, Jesus says 6:67 to the 12 (read). He is not groveling to get them to stay with Him; He is emphasizing that they have a choice and asking them if they still want to follow Him despite this “hard teaching.” Peter speaks for them (read 6:68). He says: “I’ve already experienced what life is like apart from Your guidance. There is nothing out there for me. What You have taught me so far has brought me true life. So I’m going to keep following you and serving You despite this ‘hard teaching.’”

Do you think Peter regretted his decision? No way! And neither will you.

DISCUSS: What other “hard teachings” have you faced? What responses have you had? What have your responses led to?