Morning Message – John Cline
John 6 – Scripture Reader Setri Dzivenu
From the coastal city of Malinda in Kenya reports have come of 73 people having died in a suspected “starvation cult”. Another 112 people are reported missing and presumed to have died and been secretly buried somewhere. The leader of that “starvation cult”, Pastor Paul McKenzie, taught his people that they should not eat food and that it was preferable to die from starvation than to live for, in dying, they would go directly to heaven and there meet Jesus instead of having to endure the imminent troubles and destruction that are coming. Food? The real Jesus ate lots of food at banquets and suppers, and he also gave food to his followers rather than deprive them of it. So, to say that Pastor Paul McKenzie has missed Jesus’ teachings is to state the obvious. First, today’s geographical context.
Project map of Galilee
Before Easter, we had preached our way to the end of John 5. Today, we resume our sermon series through John, starting in chapter 6. You may remember that we had just read in John 5 about Jesus being in Jerusalem and healing a paralyzed man there by the Pool of Bethesda.
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. (John 6:1,2)
The people were following Jesus because they had seen the healings he had done and viewed them as being signs, pointers, revealing who Jesus was. John had decided which miracles of Jesus to write about. The ones he chose for his book he hoped would lead readers to faith.
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 2:30,31)
Crowds of people who saw or heard about Jesus’ miracles were following him wherever he went. The setting for today’s scene is the Sea of Galilee’s northern end, outside the town of Bethsaida.
Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 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. (John 6:3-6)
Philip was not one of the normal go-to apostles for Jesus but, because he was from Bethsaida, Jesus knew that Philip would know where they could buy bread from which they could feed the crowds. Just as a clever teacher will intentionally ignore the raised hands of the eager Peters, Jameses, Johns, and Thomases of the classroom, and will instead ask the student who never says a word, Jesus asked Philip to participate in the discussion. The only other time in the Gospels that Philip speaks up is found in John 12 when Greek men wanted to see Jesus. Because Philip’s name was Greek and because his town of Bethsaida was located right beside the Greek-speaking area of Israel, it is possible that the Greeks either knew Philip or felt an affinity with him. In any case, Philip failed Jesus’ test. Philip should have looked at the signs pointing to who Jesus was and responded in faith. But he didn’t. Instead, the apostle Andrew, who was also from Bethsaida, stepped up with a possible solution. But, in response to Jesus…
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to 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?” (John 6:7-9)
The miracle we are about to read was not as one of my former liberal theological seminary professors claimed it to be: a “miracle of generosity” in which the others in the crowd, having seen the small boy offer his lunch – which, I like to imagine, had been lovingly prepared for him by his mother – were so inspired by his generosity that they opened up their own sacks of food and shared it with one another. That is not what happened! John claims it was a “miraculous sign” proving Jesus’ majestic, unique power and worth. It is the only miracle, other than Jesus’ resurrection, written about in all four Gospels and the authors of the Gospels all say that this was a “miracle” performed by Jesus, not a story of human generosity.
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 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.” So, they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. (John 6:10-13)
Symbolism here could be that the 2 fish stood for the two covenants, Old and New; the 5 loaves of barley bread stood for the 5 “Books of Moses”, the first 5 books of the Jewish Bible; the 12 leftover baskets of food represented 1 basket for each of the 12 apostles; or, that the 12 basketfuls represented the 12 tribes of Israel. I believe the last suggestion makes the most sense, symbolically. Thus, the message contained within this miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, with 12 basketfuls of food leftover, was that Jesus was saying to all Israel: “I will feed you and provide for you. Believe in me!”
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, 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. (John 6:14-15)
Jesus was not yet ready to have the crowds take him to Jerusalem and enthrone as the King of Israel, but he was wanting them to know that he was the only who could truly provide for them. John 6 continues on after this miracle with Jesus walking on water. We will look at that in two weeks’ time. The other Gospel writers Matthew and Mark then go on to say that…
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. (Mark 7:24)
Jesus left the Jewish area of Bethsaida and Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee to journey to the Gentile area of the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Tyre. Then, we read that from there he went further north to another Gentile city, Sidon, before returning to the Sea of Galilee.
Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. (Mark 7:31)
Now, as we can see as we look again at our map, Jesus may have returned to the Sea of Galilee not to the Jewish areas in the north, west, or south, but to the Greek-speaking, Gentile-filled area known as “The Decapolis”, on the east side of the Sea of Galilee.
Image – map of Sea of Galilee
The Greek word “Decapolis” means “Ten Cities” & referred to the ten Greek cities located on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Now,
The Decapolis is to where Joshua drove the seven nations out of the Promised Land (Joshua 3:10). Jesus going there was an intentional including of non-Jews into God’s kingdom.
Just as Jesus had taken his Gospel to the Jews, now he was taking it to the Gentiles. His Gospel was and is for all people, for every nation.
During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied. He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. (Mark 8:1-9a)
My former liberal theological seminary professor taught us: “There was only one feeding of the multitudes. Surely this second story of Jesus feeding the masses was just a mistake, a careless duplication and retelling of the same event. The Gospel writers made a mistake.” But that claim of my former professor is the thing that is wrong. If his claim was true, then the four Gospel authors were idiots and there is no point in reading any part of the Gospels they wrote. No, the feeding of the multitude events were two different events, with a distinct symbolism in each event, as we will here see. As for their differences:
The number of people fed were different: 5,000 and 4,000.
The amount of food brought forward was different: 2 small fish and 5 loaves of barley bread versus a few small fish and 7 loaves of bread.
The basketfuls leftover were different: 12 and 7.
Elsewhere in the Bible, the number 7 is seen as symbolic of completeness. As well, there were the 7 days of creation. So, it could be the 7 basketfuls of food symbolized completeness of creation. But, the likely symbolism I have hinted at is the one that makes the most sense. It has to do with, as realtors say, “location, location, location”.
The feeding of the 5,000 took place near Bethsaida, on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, and with a Jewish audience, while the feeding of the 4,000 took place in the Decapolis region, on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee with a mostly Gentile audience.
Back when the Israelites were originally entering into the Promised Land, 7 nations lived there. Joshua and his forces kicked those 7 Gentile people groups from the Promised Land. Where did they go? The Decapolis, east of the Sea of Galilee. “Location, location, location.”
By having 7 leftover basketfuls of food, Jesus was symbolically including the 7 Gentile nations who had been driven out from the Promised Land in Joshua 3:10. The Lord’s salvation and provisions are for all nations!
After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., so after the New Testament was written, guess which area became the centre of Christianity? The Decapolis, particularly the city of Pella. But let’s mention one more proof that the two feedings of the multitudes were different events.
Jesus himself reminded his apostles that these two events were different.
After feeding the 4,000, Jesus and his disciples boated it to the south-western side of the Sea of Galilee, landing at the city of Dalmanutha.
After he had sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. (Mark 8:9b,10)
After landing in Dalmanutha, on the southwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, some Pharisees, who refused to acknowledge the many miraculous signs Jesus had already done, accosted him there.
The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given it.” (Mark 8:11,12)
Clearly, Jesus had already performed many “miraculous signs”, but he always refused the “on demand”, circus-magician kind. After refuting the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples climbed back into a boat to once again go back across the Sea of Galilee.
Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. (Mark 8:13,14)
As the apostles whined about having nothing to eat, Jesus was thinking about the potentially dangerous words of the Pharisees.
“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:15)
Yeast, when combined with flour, permeates a whole loaf of bread. In other words, Jesus was warning the disciples that the sinful and hypocritical words of the Pharisees and of King Herod could take over their lives, if they were not careful and they let them. Just because a person says something doesn’t mean it is truthful or healthy to dwell on or digest. “Focus on the food I give you”, is the message Jesus was saying and demonstrating over and over again. Focus on me, turn your eyes onto me, and you will have all you need in life. The conversation Jesus had with his disciples while in the boat was most revealing:
They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:15-21)
Jesus was disturbed by the Pharisees’ demand for a “sign”, but he was dismayed that the apostles still did not “understand” him, or who he was, or what his mission and purpose were. Going back to John 6 now, we find Jesus similarly disturbed by the crowds of people who had been looking for him and had found him in Capernaum. In response to their complaints about having to look for him,
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:26,27)
The “signs” were much more important than the food. Work at focusing on the signs, and you will learn from them who I am, Jesus said.
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So, they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” (John 6:28-30)
Instead of taking Jesus’ words seriously and believing in him, the people again asked him for another “sign” that they could see and, as a result, come to believe in him. Jesus gave them a deep answer.
Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:31-35)
How did talk on the manna from heaven which God gave at the time of Moses to sustain the Israelites as they were wandering in the Sinai Desert morph into a discussion of Jesus being “the bread of life”? Jesus will take this theme even deeper in the coming verses but I need to remind you that in our recent Lenten Devotional series, Phyllis Aidoo gave an excellent talk on this topic so I will be skipping past the verses she referenced to verse 41.
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” (John 6:41)
Why were the Jewish religious leaders grumbling about Jesus’ claim, “I Am the bread that came from heaven”? They were confused. The next few verses give some context for their confusion.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-59)
It is a historical fact that the first Christians were accused by Jews and Romans of being cannibals who had feasts in which they ate the literal body and drank the literal blood of their leader, Jesus Christ. Now, Jesus didn’t mean his words to be taken literally any more than he meant that he was a light, a vine, a door, or a shepherd when he later claimed, “I AM the light of the world”, or “I AM the vine” or “I AM the door” or “I AM the good shepherd”. Context is everything and with his instruction to eat his flesh or drink his blood, he did not mean literally, but symbolically, figuratively. Jesus’ statement that, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood” is grammatically in what is known as “present tense participles”, which meant that if Jesus’ words were to be taking literally, his disciples were to be eating his flesh and drinking his blood at the very time he was speaking and then continue doing so as a process. That clearly that did not happen! Instead, Jesus was speaking figuratively. He is our life, our sustainer, our sustenance, the one who fills and feeds us, the one who gives us forgiveness and salvation so when we eat of his body in the bread and drink of his blood in the grape juice, we are saying, “yes” to being united with him. He is in us as we trust in him and serve him.
He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? (J. 6:59-61)
It would only be after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection that his followers would understand all of this clearly. Jesus was God’s manna sent from heaven to sustain us and give us life. Jesus was the lamb of God sent to protect us and give us forgiveness.
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)
Peter got that right! Who else is there? No one! Only Jesus. Let’s partake of Communion at this time…Amen.