“In the city of Philadelphia many years ago, a little girl named Hattie May Wiatt came to a small Sunday School and asked if she might attend. They regretfully explained to her that they were completely crowded out and that there was no room. Some time later Hattie became seriously ill and soon slipped away from this earth to be with Jesus. Under her pillow was found an old, torn pocketbook. Inside was a scrap of paper in which she had wrapped fifty-seven pennies. On the paper, scrawled in a childish hand, were these words: “To help build the church a little bigger so that more children can go there to Sunday school.” Hattie May was only a little child and so didn’t have much that she could give to Jesus, but she had saved fifty-seven shining coppers to help enlarge a Sunday school that could not let her in. The pastor, deeply touched, told his congregation what the little child had done. The newspapers repeated the story, and soon from far and wide gifts began to come in to build a bigger auditorium. That contribution of fifty-seven sacrificial pennies, given in love for Jesus, grew until the fund reached the sum of $250,000. As a result, in Philadelphia there is now a great church, seating over 3000 people, with plenty of room for little children who want to attend Sunday school.” (Our Daily Bread devotional)
We will soon see how that touching story relates to the passage of Scripture we are now studying: John 6:1-15.
I. THE SETTING: (verses 1-4)
Verse 1 begins with the words, “After these things”. Actually, several months have passed since the end of chapter 5. During that time Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, performed several miracles and told several parables, He also gave His disciples the power to heal the sick and cast out demons, and then sent them out two-by-two to proclaim the kingdom of God. When they returned to Him, Jesus listened to their accounts of what they had done (Matthew 9-14; Mark 4-6; Luke 5-9)
Now He’s going by boat across the Sea of Galilee, probably to spend some time with His disciples and get some much-needed rest. What happens next is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). The time alone with His disciples didn’t last long. Verse 2 tells us that “a great multitude was following Him”. They were walking around the Sea of Galilee, probably bringing their sick and lame along with them for Jesus to heal. Mark’s gospel tells us that the crowd of people were already there when He and His disciples arrived.
Verse 3 tells us, “And He went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.” From that vantage point they could see quite a distance, and they “lifted up their eyes” and watched and waited until all who were coming had arrived. The mountain they climbed was part of what is now called the Golan Heights. There was a large, grassy plateau at the top.
Luke 14:21 says that the crowd consisted of 5000 men “aside from women and children”. If you do the math, that means there were 15,000 to 20,000 people in that crowd. Where did all these people come from? I think the apostle John gives us part of the answer to that question when he inserted verse 4 into his narrative. It says, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand”. This means that throngs of Jews from all over the Roman Empire were making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal. What would you do if you were one of those pilgrims and saw a large crowd of Jews going in a different direction? I’d want to ask them some questions, wouldn’t you? “What’s going on?” “Where are you going”? “Why”? I believe that many of these pilgrims decided to make a detour and follow this crowd to see Jesus.
In spite of the fact that Jesus wanted to get away to a secluded place with His disciples to rest for a while, He wasn’t irritated by the fact that the crowds of people followed Him. Luke writes, “. . . and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God, and curing those who had need of healing.” The Lord Jesus was always a servant, concerned about the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others.
II. THE TEST (verses 5-9)
As the day wore on, the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the people away so that they could buy food for themselves (Mark 6:36). In response, Jesus said to Philip (the “mathematician”), “Where are we going to buy bread that these may eat.” He’s saying, “These people are our guests. So, what are we going to do to provide them with a meal” Jesus knew what He was going to do, but He puts Philip to the test; and Philip (“the mathematician”) considers this to be a “math test”, so he works out the problem in his head. “Let’s see, 5000 men plus women and children, multiplied by the cost of one meal for each person, divided by the number of days worked to earn that amount of money.” . . . Philip can’t count that high in his head, so he makes a minimum “quesstimate” in verse 7, saying, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” Philip is saying, “This is mathematically impossible; two-hundred days wages wouldn’t be enough to give them each a mouthful of bread.” Philip failed that test!
At that moment Andrew (the “bringer”), Simon Peter’s brother, approaches Jesus. Andrew is always bringing someone to Jesus, and in this case he brings along a little boy. The child’s mother made him a snack lunch that morning to take with him for the day, and he wanted to give it all to Jesus. Does that remind you of Hattie May Wiatt, the little girl in my introduction? Like Hattie May, this little boy had no idea how great the cost would be to meet the need, but he wanted to give everything that he had in order to help meet that need.
Andrew said to Jesus, in verse 9: “There’s a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish”. If Andrew had stopped there, it would have been a demonstration of faith in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, Andrew continues, “but what are these for so many people?” Andrew failed the test also! He failed because, like Philip, he removed his focus away from His Messiah and started doing the math. This was not a math test that Jesus was giving them. He is not their math teacher, but their God! I would consider this to be more of a history test than a math test, and I’ll explain why later on in this sermon.
So far, the only one who has passed the test is this little boy! He knew that Jesus could meet the need – that’s why he made his investment! For him, it wasn’t a mathematical problem, but an opportunity to express faith and trust in Jesus. Whether it’s a lunch or 57 cents, this boy and Hattie May gave what they had and God does the rest.
Before we look into the miracle itself, let’s first look into the lunchbox. I’m sure there was a broad smile on Jesus’ face as He squatted to talk to the child. I can imagine that Jesus embraced him as He thanked the boy for his gift. When Jesus opened the lunchbox, what does He see? Before His eyes are five small barley cakes. Barley is the food of the poor, so Jesus knows that this child is from a poor family. He also knows that the boy is not with his family because they did not come along with him to meet Jesus. They may have given him that lunch because they were both going to be in the fields that day, harvesting someone’s crop or gleaning the left-over grain in order to have enough to eat for themselves and their family. When the boy saw crowds of people going around the lake, and learned that they were on their way to see Jesus, he decided to join them.
What do those barley cakes look like? They are small and flat, and look like little tortillas. The two dried fish were probably about the size of sardines. Not much of a meal, is it? It was barely enough to feed this child, and would have provided only a few mouthfuls for a hungry man. But the child’s lunch was the answer to Jesus’ question to Philip: “Where are we going to buy bread that these may eat.” Jesus didn’t say “how”, but “where”. The answer to that question was now in His hands, and He and His disciples didn’t even have to pay for it!
III. THE MEAL (verses 10-11)
Rather than chiding these two disciples for their lack of faith in Him, Jesus puts them and all the rest of His disciples to work. This is going to be a disciple-participation miracle, and not just a child-participation miracle. He says to them in verse 10, “Have the people sit down.” As His disciples fan out to pass those words on to the people, they are probably wondering in their minds: “What is He going to do next?”
Have you ever wondered what happened to the boy? Did he just walk away and fade into the crowd? I don’t think so. Based upon the character of Jesus and His love for people, especially little children, I think that Jesus invited the boy to stay close beside Him so that the child could watch the miracle as it was taking place. He was going to see firsthand how Jesus was going to use his small lunch to feed the multitude. I’m sure this was an unexpected surprise for him.
How did this miracle take place? Verse 11 tells us that it began with a prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father, said by Jesus. “Jesus therefore took the loaves, and having given thanks”. Luke’s Gospel adds the words, “looking up to heaven”. Jesus gave thanks for the abundance of food that didn’t exist yet! By looking up to heaven, Jesus made it obvious to His disciples and everyone near Him that He was giving thanks for the Father’s provision. That is a prayer of trust in the Father’s enabling! Let me ask you a question. How would you like to invite 20.000 people over for a free meal, all-you-can-eat? You would be asking for a miracle too!
You might say that the miracle that followed took place in the hands of Jesus. John 6:11 continues with the words, “He distributed to those who were seated; likewise the fish as much as they wanted.” The other Gospels add that Jesus broke the loaves (tore the tortillas) and broke the fish. I personally believe that this was a two-part miracle, in the sense that it happened in two distinct places. It happened in the hands of Jesus as He broke the loaves and fish and placed the pieces in the baskets, and the miracle also happened in the baskets themselves. I believe those baskets became “never-ending fish and chips baskets”. The apostles distributed some at first and then set the baskets down in each of their distribution areas and the people could come and get more until they were satisfied. It would be similar to the widow’s never-ending jar of oil in II Kings 4, or The Olive Garden Restaurants’ “never-ending salad bowl and breadsticks”. Otherwise, Jesus would have been breaking loaves and fishes for many hours, and the twelve apostles would have made several hundred trips back and forth distributing and refilling. Jesus and His disciples would have been too exhausted to eat, and the sun would have been going down. Does that opinion make sense to you?
That done, guess who had the privilege of having lunch with Jesus and His disciples? The boy who gave his lunch is going to receive back much more than he gave! Can you imagine what a joyful experience that must have been, and I imagine that each one of the disciples thanked him also. This child is going to have quite a story to tell his parents that evening!
IV. THE CLEAN-UP (verses 12-13)
In verses 12 and 13 we learn that Jesus is no “litter-bug”, and He does not believe in wasting food. He tells His disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.” Each of His disciples returned with his basket full of pieces of bread and fish. These baskets were probably of a wicker material and could hold about two gallons each. Twenty-four gallons of leftovers from five little tortillas and two little fish! It was another opportunity for His disciples to reflect upon, and be amazed at what had happened, along with all the people who were there. It had become, not only a disciple-participation miracle, but an audience-participation miracle as well!
Did you ever wonder what they did with all those leftovers. I think the Lord Jesus gave them away to some of the poorest people in the crowd for their next meal, or as food for any animals they might have. I wonder whether one or more of those baskets was given to that little boy to take home and show his parents. We don’t know, but one thing we do know for sure is that the boy who donated his lunch will always be remembered because of his generosity. Likewise, the people of Philadelphia will never forget Hattie May for her donation of 57 pennies to build a bigger church. To have that kind of faith we need a big concept of God – a child’s concept of God!
V. THE REACTION (verses 14-15)
After the meal is over and the clean-up is completed, we see the initial response of the crowd in verse 14. “When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ ” Which “prophet” are they referring to, and how did they come to that conclusion? For all Jews at that time, a favorite messianic passage of Scripture in the Law of Moses was Deuteronomy 18:15. Before his death, and before the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, Moses told the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”
This amazing meal reminded the people of the manna that Moses said God would provide for their ancestors to eat while they were in the wildernes. That’s why I said earlier that Jesus’ question to Philip in verse 6 was more like a history test than a math test. He wanted to bring to Philip’s mind the miracle that God performed in the wilderness. In Exodus 16:4, God said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you”. God speaks to Moses again in verse 12 saying, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” How many people were fed by the manna and the quail in the wilderness? Numbers 12:37-38 tells us that there were 603,550 men over 20, apart from women and children. Multiply that number by four, and we’re talking about 2.5 million people fed with manna every day for 40 years. Try doing the math to see if you can figure out how much bread was eaten. I’ll bet you can’t do it in your head! In both cases, there was enough, and more than enough to satisfy everyone’s needs. I made some calculations based upon a few assumptions. If an omer was equivalent to a bushel, and a bushel was equivalent to an American gallon, then 2,500,000 people times 365 days a year times 40 years would be a minimum of 36,500,000,000 (or 36 billion, 500 million) bushels or gallons of manna, and that’s only what was gathered and eaten! That’s a lot of bread! It would be enough to feed the entire population of our world for 5 days, with some leftovers! Isn’t that awesome? We have an awesome God!
Returning to the passage of Scripture we are studying, we learn that the multitude Jesus fed had come to the conclusion that Jesus must be the Prophet, the One who was to be their Messiah. In verse 15, we are told what this crowd of people wanted to do. It reads, “Jesus, therefore, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” Mark’s and Luke’s gospels add that Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of Him by boat, and then dismissed the crowd before going up on the mountain.
This particular miracle, the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus, was a continual source of inspiration and encouragement to a man by the name of George Mueller. This man of God cared for as many as 2000 orphans at one time in Bristol, England during the middle of the 19th century. No regular means of support was available and no appeals for money were ever made, yet thousands of dollars came from all over the world. The orphanage personnel often faced desperate situations, but George Mueller always said, “The Lord is testing us. I don’t know what He’ll do, but He knows, and that’s enough.” As Jesus lifted up HIs eyes and thanked His Father for food that wasn’t provided yet, so George Mueller would sometimes sit down with the orphans and thank God for food that was not on their tables. Often there would be a knock on the door before he even finished praying!
A principle we can draw from this passage of Scripture and from these illustrations from history, is that there is no need, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, that God cannot supply. We need to look beyond our overwhelming needs to see our all-sufficient God. What are your “impossibilities”?
There is also a principle we can learn from the little boy who gave his lunch to Jesus. The Lord never forgets to reward those who do what they can, no matter how small their contribution may appear in their own eyes or in the eyes of others. Let’s give our all to Jesus Christ and watch Him use it to meet the needs of others and bring glory to Himself.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: (COMPLETED)
Thank you for visiting this completed work-in-progress. Another project, John 6:17-21, will begin very soon on the adjacent lot. See you there!