A Meal for a Multitude – John 6:1-15

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IINTRODUCTION:

“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.

CONCLUSION:

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!

JESUS DEFENDS HIS AUTHORITY – John 2:18-22

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Are guarantees important to you?  When you shop for an item to purchase, do you read the fine print in the contract and the guarantee forms?  Maybe you can recall a time when you didn’t read all the fine print and wish you had.  We all desire proof, not only that things live up to their claims, but also that people live up to the claims they make.  The most fantastic claim that any person could possibly make would be the claim to be God.  Jesus Christ wasn’t the first Person to make that claim, and there have been many others who have claimed it since then.

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 2:12-17, the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple.  While doing so He declared:  “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house  of merchandise.”  By His actions and His words, the Lord Jesus was fulfilling an Old Testament prophesy and declaring Himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God.  Now we see their response.

I.  THE REACTION OF THE JEWISH LEADERS (verses 18)

In verse 18 the leaders of the Jews said to Jesus, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things.”  They used that same expression at the end of Jesus’ ministry, in Matthew 21:23.  They were angry, and probably shouted those words at Him.  It may have sounded something like this:  “Who do You think You are!  Who gave You the right to do the things You just did.”  They ask Him for a sign.  I guess they felt they had the right to put Jesus to the test.  After all, they considered themselves to be the guardians of the Jewish faith.  I wonder whether or not they were trying to (incorrectly) apply God’s words to Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-3.  “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes true concerning which he spoke to you saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the prophet or dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”  But Jesus was not a prophet or a dreamer, He was God Himself!

The problem was that the Jewish people were always looking for signs and miracles.  What Jesus says to them in reply is the greatest of all signs or miracles.

II.  THE PREDICTION BY JESUS (verse 19)

Jesus’ answer to the Jews who were questioning Him was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  It was a statement they misunderstood, but they would never forget it.  Three years later they quoted it at Jesus’ trial, and even used it to mock Him while He was on the cross.  The word translated “destroy” is a permissive imperative in the Greek.  His listeners didn’t realize it, but Jesus was giving them permission to kill Him in order that He might pay the price for the sins of the world.  This was a new insight for me.

There are two Greek words that were used when referring to the temple.  The Lord Jesus chose to use the word “naos”, a word that could also be used to refer to the human body.  Speaking of the temple, Jesus said “I will raise it up”.  The Greek word used here, “egeiro”, literally means “to rouse from sleep” It occurs 141 times in the New Testament, and 70 of those usages refer to the resurrection.  Obviously, Jesus didn’t point to Himself or make any other kind of gesture to indicate clearly to them that He was referring to His body.  I don’t think that Jesus wanted them to understand what He was saying.  Even His own disciples didn’t understand the meaning of His statement until after His death and resurrection.  Can you ever remember receiving the following response when you asked someone a question:  “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it!”?  I think those words also apply to this situation.

Often during Jesus’ public ministry, the Jewish leaders asked Jesus to give them a sign.  But He refused to do so, except for the sign of Jonah, which depicts death, burial, and resurrection.  In Matthew 12:40 Jesus said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

C.S. Lewis popularized the argument that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, or the Lord.  Watchman Nee also expresses this argument clearly in his book, Normal Christian Faith:
“A person who claims to be God must belong to one of three categories:  First, if he claims to be God and yet in fact is not, he has to be a madman or a lunatic.  Second, if he is neither God nor a lunatic, he has to be a liar, deceiving others by his lie. Third, if he is neither of these, he must be God.  You can only choose one of these
possibilities.”

III.  THEIR MISUNDERSTANDING (verses 20-21) 

Judging from their response to Jesus’ remark, the Jewish leaders must have thought that Jesus was a lunatic. Their answer to Jesus is:  “It took forty years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  They thought He was talking about the temple in Jerusalem.  Josephus, the Roman historian, said that about 18,000 workmen were employed in that task, and that the temple wasn’t finished until 64 A.D.  They are saying to Jesus, “You’ve got to be crazy if you think you can rebuild that massive, ornate structure in just three days!”  Little did they realize that Jesus was going to do something even more astounding.  He was going to bring His own dead body back to life after three days in a tomb!

The originator of a new religion came to the great French diplomat, Talleyrand and complained that he could not make any converts.  “What would you suggest I do?” he asked.  “I should recommend”, said Talleyrand, “that you get yourself crucified, and then die, but be sure to rise again the third day.”  I don’t think he took that advice!  Talleyrand must have recognized that it is the resurrected, living Christ that holds Christianity together and draws people to it.  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:14 and 17, “And if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain . . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” 

IV.  THE DISCIPLES’ RESPONSE (verse 22)

In verse 21, the apostle John affirms that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body.  But John did not know that at the time.  He says in verse 22, “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this (over three years earlier); and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.”  They didn’t understand until they saw Him in His resurrected body three years later.

What is the “Scripture” that they believed?   It must have been Psalm 16:10 because the apostle Peter quoted it at Pentecost (Acts 2:31), and the apostle Paul quoted it at Antioch;  (Acts 13:35).  Psalm 16:10 says, “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.”  That “mysterious” verse had been solved and fulfilled.

A little boy once taught his Sunday School class a lesson about the resurrection of Christ that they understood immediately and would never forget.  Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several other eight-year-old boys and girls.  Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in Leadership magazine.  But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully.

The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought L’eggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs.  Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container.  Back in the classroom they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion.  After running through the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one.  After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh.

Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside.  The children exclaimed, “That’s stupid!”   “That’s not fair!”  “Somebody didn’t do their assignment!”

Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.”

“Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted.  “There’s nothing there!”

“I did so do it,” Philip insisted.  “I did do it.  It’s empty, the tomb is empty!”

Silence followed.  From then on Philip became a full member of the class.  He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off.  At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar, not with flowers but with their Sunday School teacher, each to lay on his casket an empty pantyhose egg.

Like the empty pantyhose egg, the Lord Jesus used the picture of the temple (His body) to describe His violent death that would be followed by His glorious resurrection from the dead (the empty tomb).  This is the second picture that John records in his Gospel.  The first picture was that of the Lamb of God, the unblemished substitute who would be sacrificed to pay the price for our sins.  There is also a third picture which John gives in chapter 3 of his Gospel.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

The Lord Jesus’ description of Himself as a “temple” brings to mind several images from the Old Testament.  The tabernacle in the wilderness was just a tent until it was consecrated and the Spirit of God came and filled it.  Then it became the Tabernacle of the Lord, and the Shekinah glory shone out from within.  The people saw it and worshipped God who now dwelt there.  The temple of Solomon was just a beautiful building until it was consecrated, and the Spirit of God filled it.  Then it became a temple where people were drawn together to worship the Lord.

Just as Jesus described His body as a temple, our bodies are temples also.  Who, or what. is being worshipped in your “temple” (your body, your life)?  Who is being glorified in your body?  It’s not enough to believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins.  It’s not enough to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, God incarnate.  Those things are important to believe, but believing those things to be true is not the formula for becoming a child of God.  There is also the need for consecration:  repenting of our sins and devoting our lives to Him.  Is your body (your life) an outward testimony of forgiveness and joy because of the death of Christ for you?  Is your body (life) an outward evidence of victory because of the risen Christ who reigns in you, and the Spirit of God who fills and controls you?  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 6:19-20. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”  Becoming a Christian is not a rental agreement or a lease.  It is a permanent transfer of ownership of our lives to God our Creator.  You couldn’t be in better hands, and the enjoyment never ends!  I hope this is your experience.  If not, I hope that you will make that choice and experience the wonderful, life-changing results very soon.  You will be eternally glad if you do, or eternally sorry if you don’t.  God wants you to be His, and the Lord Jesus paid the price to make that possible.  If it is still unclear in your mind, please go to my “About page” where the Scriptures are given, or leave me a comment so that we can talk about this decision, and so that any questions might be answered.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome to this finished work-in-progress, John 2:18-22.  Please come back soon.  I am temporarily leaving my study in John’s Gospel to study and prepare a message for Christmas.  I have in mind an unusual message, but one which is very appropriate for this time of celebration.  After I gather the Scriptures pertaining to these events and develop an outline, I’ll start putting this sermon online a bit at a time as the work progresses.  Thank you for visiting.  Please also visit other completed sermons on this blog-site if you are interested.  May we be receptive and eager as Christ reveals Himself more fully to us.

 

THE PRAGMATIST AND THE SKEPTIC – John 1:43-51

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The apostle John continues to give us a day-to-day description of the events that occurred during the early public ministry of Jesus Christ.  John 1:43 begins with the words “the next day”.  This is the third “next day” after John the Baptist’s interview with the priests and Levites.  Verses 29 to 51 could be called “John’s Daily News Updates”, and he reports details that aren’t recorded in the other Gospels.

I.  PHILIP THE PRAGMATIST (verses 43-45)

Here in verse 43 we read that Jesus “prepared to go forth into Galilee”.  He was headed for Galilee and He had a specific purpose in mind for making this trip.  When Jesus arrived in Galilee, He ‘found Philip”.  Jesus looked for Philip until He found him.  Philip’s name is Greek.  It means “lover of horses”.  That may have had something to do with his upbringing and with his previous occupation.  We don’t know.  We also don’t know how much previous knowledge he had of Jesus, nor how much preparation by God preceded this pivotal day in his life.  But when Jesus said to Philip, “follow Me”, he not obeyed the call, but he also told a friend and introduced him to Jesus.

There isn’t a lot written about Philip in the Scriptures, and most of that information is found here in John’s Gospel.  My personal impression of Philip is that he tends to be a pragmatist, that is, one who has a logical and practical approach to problems.  In the feeding of the 5000, Philip assesses the situation, does the math, and gives his logical conclusion:  “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7).  When he finds Nathaniel, Philip’s description of Jesus is very clear, precise  and thorough:  “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”.  In verse 46, his reply to his friend Nathaniel’s question is “Come and see”, the same reply that Jesus gave to Simon Peter and John.  He sure sounds like, and acts like a pragmatist to me, and I commend him for his thoroughness and objectivity!

II.  NATHANIEL THE SKEPTIC (verse 46)

Philip and Nathaniel must have been close friends because Philip immediately searched for him and told him about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s reply, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” may have been said in jest. but he meant the words.  Nazareth must have been a very small town hidden away on the hillside in a low-income district.  He couldn’t fathom how the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth, could come from a place like that.  He was skeptical alright!  He had probably been there before, and the town left a bad impression on him.  There may have been some prejudice against “those kinds of people”  It’s a possibility.

Philip isn’t interested in an argument so he says, “Come and see” – “let me introduce you to Him, and then come to your own conclusion”.  Philip used the same words that Jesus used in verse 39.  I think Philip was convinced that meeting Jesus would change Nathaniel’s attitude.

Before we look at Nathaniel’s meeting with Jesus, there are some things about Nathaniel that should be addressed.  He is somewhat of a mystery!  Let’s see if we can come to some kind of an explanation.  Nathaniel is mentioned only here in chapter 1 and in chapter 21, verse 2 of John’s Gospel.  He is not mentioned at all in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  So who is this person?  Why is his name absent from all three of the lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; and Luke 6:13-16)?  Was he a friend of the disciples but not a disciple?  Was he a figment of John’s imagination?

There is a theory about this mystery that makes a lot of sense to me for at least three good reasons. The theory is that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are the same person.  Reason #1:  As I mentioned earlier, Nathaniel is never mentioned in Matthew, Mark, or Luke’s Gospel but Bartholomew is mentioned.  On the other hand, Bartholomew is not mentioned in John’s Gospel but Nathaniel is. This leads me to believe that they are one person being called by two different names.  Reason #2:  Nathaniel is closely associated with Philip in John’s Gospel, whereas Bartholomew is closely associated with Philip in the synoptic Gospels.  The words “Philip and Bartholomew” are connected with each other using the same wording in both Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels.  The same connection is made between the brothers “Peter and Andrew“, and the brothers “James and John”.  Reason #3:  The name “Bartholomew” is composed of two words.  “Bar” means “son” or “son of”.  Bartholomew was the “son of Tholomew” (or Ptolemy).  After His resurrection, Jesus addressed Peter as “Simon, son of John” or “Simon Bar Jonah”.  Giving the father’s name helped distinguish people with the same first names.  Another way of distinguishing people was to add where they were from.    Some people may have referred to Jesus as “Jesus Bar Joseph”, others as “Jesus of Nazareth”.  There are other people in the New Testament who are referred to by their “last names” so to speak.  For example, there is the blind man, Bartimaeus, Barnabas the missionary, and the insurrectionist Barabbas.  Nathaniel may have been Nathaniel Bartholomew and was accustomed to being called by both his names.  We don’t know for sure, but this explanation makes sense to me.

III.  JESUS AND NATHANIEL MEET (verse 47-51)

When Jesus sees Nathaniel coming toward Him, He says out-loud for everyone to hear, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  He is paying Nathaniel a compliment, saying that he is a person who is honest and straightforward, without deceit.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Behold, this man is not a phony.  He’s being honest about his doubts.”  Jesus’ words take Nathaniel by surprise.  How could Jesus know anything about his character when they have never met before.  He asks Jesus, “How do you know me?”  He’s really saying, “Who told you about me?”  “How did you obtain that personal information?”  Nathaniel was shocked, but not as shocked as he is going to be!  Jesus answered Nathaniel by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Something really significant must have been going on under that fig tree because Nathaniel exclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”

In those days fig trees were planted along the roads, and they had large, thick leaves and overhanging branches that would conceal a person who was sitting under one of them.  The Talmud, a Jewish book of religious laws and traditions, encouraged people to pray and meditate on God’s Word under a fig tree. It is very probable that Nathaniel was praying and meditating on Psalm 2 under the fig tree when Jesus saw him because the terms “Son of God” and “King (Anointed One) are both found in that psalm.   Nathaniel may well have been praying for a manifestation of the Messiah.  God’s Word and his own personal desires prepared him to recognize and proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah.  The content of Jesus’ words, and the timing with which He spoke them, had a miraculous effect on Nathaniel.  This Man who knows my thoughts, my prayers, and my secret desires must be the Messiah that I’m longing for.

Some might call it a “deja vu moment”.  The French words mean “already seen”.  Have you ever had a “deja vu moment” where you’ve seen something or experienced something that causes you to remember something that has happened to you before or earlier.  It’s a time of recollection and amazement, isn’t it?  Nathaniel’s response to Jesus was one of amazement and adoration.

In verse 51, Jesus’ makes a promise, not only to Nathaniel, but to all the disciples who are present with Him.  The pronoun (“you”), and the verb (“shall see”) are both plural in the Greek text.  They will all see something even more amazing that will confirm Nathaniel’s words to Him.  Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you (plural), you (all of you) shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  That’s quite a promise!  When was that promise fulfilled?  Are Jesus’ words to be taken literally or figuratively?  Has this event already happened, or is it yet to happen?

When the disciples heard that promise from Jesus’ lips, Genesis 28:10-12 must have immediately come to their minds.  Verse 12 says, “And he (Jacob) had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”  The disciples must have tried to envision that dream in their minds every time they thought of that passage of Scripture, or heard it read in the Synagogue.

Let’s compare the two passages of Scripture.  Genesis 28:12 is quoted in the above paragraph, and John 1:51 is quoted in the paragraph before it.  Notice that there is a ladder mentioned in Genesis 28 but no ladder mentioned in John 1:51.  That’s because Jesus, the “Son of Man” is now the way to God, the only connection between God and man.  He came to earth to pave the way to heaven and open its gates at the cost of His life.  This is the first of many times that Jesus uses the words “Son of Man” to refer to Himself in John’s Gospel.  I believe the angels ascending and descending represent God’s power, His communication, and His protection of His people.

In Jacob’s dream, God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham and Isaac.  Jacob’s response was one of worship and commitment to God.  In John 1:51 Jesus’ purpose was to prepare the disciples He is addressing to begin to realize that He is truly the Messiah who will do miraculous things through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and High-Priestly ministry.   They are going to be amazed, just as Jacob was amazed by his dream!

The Lord Jesus’ example in His relationship with Nathaniel provides an application for us today.  Jesus praised Nathaniel for being an “honest skeptic” because Nathaniel was being transparent about his feelings and was open to the truth.  Jesus was teaching His disciples to be patient and kind to skeptics, and He was showing  Nathaniel that He appreciated his honest skepticism.  How do you respond when someone questions your beliefs?  Do you make that person feel welcome or do you express anger and turn that person away?

When I was in college, my roommate and I had a weekly Bible study in our dorm- room.  A student across the hall from us had some bad “religious experiences” in his past.  He shared some of his experiences and expressed his feelings about God and “religious people”.  When he found that we were willing to listen and cared about him, he would drop by to chat.  One night, after the Bible study, we were praying for one another when the door to our room opened.  It stayed open for about a minute while we were taking turns praying, and then closed quietly.  After everyone had left, this student from across the hall came over and said that he listened to us praying.  He said “Now I know it’s real” . . . I want what you’ve got!”   He became a child of God that night.  Afterward my roommate and I prayed and thanked God for enabling us to be patient and kind toward him.  How do you treat skeptics?  Do you let them know that you appreciate their honesty?

Are you a skeptic?  Are there things about God, His Word, and His Son that you find hard to accept and believe?  The fact that you’re at this site may indicate that you are seeking some answers to your questions.  I encourage you to study God’s Word for yourself. Look for genuine Christians whose lives have been dramatically changed as they have believed and chosen to follow Christ.  If you do, God will bring you to the place where you will also say, “Now I know it’s real”.  ” I want what they’ve got” – a personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  The Lord Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  The Lord keeps His word, and He will remove all doubts, just as He did for Nathaniel.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

As Solomon says about wisdom in Proverbs 2:4-5, “If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God.”  Keep digging deeper, my friends!  There are great riches in God’s Word, and your lives will be enriched as a result.  It’s time to move on to the next construction site.  I hope this study has been as enriching an experience for you as it has been for me.