This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. The passage from John’s gospel is usually known as “The feeding of the five thousand”. Our children’s talk dealt with preparing for a picnic with all that you may wish to take with you. Finally came the realisation that whilst we had everything we thought we needed, we had no food!
This leads us into the talk when we looked at our Bible reading.
John 6:1 – 14
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Feast was near. 5 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?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 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. 12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. 14 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.”
Have you ever noticed how many of the stories and events in the Bible involve food and eating?
Maybe its because Israel was and is a land where food can be scarce. But also eating and sharing food is a social occasion.
If you look in the Bible, the word “feast” occurs 97 times. Right from the days of Abraham through to the days of the early church. “Banquet” is mentioned 32 times.
Right at the end of the Bible in Revelation 19:9 we read “Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.””
The wonderful day when all who have believed and trusted in Jesus will be united with him in Heaven is likened to a wedding and there’s always food at a wedding.
Of course there were occasions when things didn’t go well. Just look at Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit commonly said to be a apple. Then there was the infamous “Belshazzar’s banquet” in Daniel 5.
Food and hospitality were very important throughout the Bible.
Also we find in the Bible miracles involving the provision of food. During the three year drought and famine that affected Israel in the time of the wicked King Ahab, Elijah was fed by Ravens (1 Kings 17). Later Elijah stayed with a widow and her son at Zarapheth and we read that her small supply of flour and oil didn’t run out during the time of the famine.
And of course earlier in the Bible we read how God wonderfully provided manna for the Israelites when they were in the desert for 40 years. When they longed for meat he provided quail for them to eat.
Many of us love to have visitors and to entertain.
Its great having people drop in on you. You realise that time is getting on and you feel you should ask them if they would like to stay for something to eat.
But what if 5000 people turn up at your door expecting to be fed?
Anyone who has been involved in putting on a spread will know how much work is involved.
Indeed many Primary Schools in this country are coming to terms with having to provide hundreds of extra school dinners each day from the beginning of the school year. And from reports on the news many head teachers are wondering how are we going to do this?
If suddenly faced with feeding 5000 people you can’t just phone the local take away and ask for 5000 meals to be deliver to half way up a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee. Neither could you order bread and fish for 5000 via Tesco online shopping for same day delivery.
We could speak with Kevin in our fellowship and see if his company would put together 5000 picnic lunches and deliver them.
So what’s happening in our Bible reading?
In the previous chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus had healed a man at the pool of Bethesda and had got into trouble with the Pharisees for not only healing the man on the Sabbath but telling his to carry his mat! That was work and you must not do anything work related on the Sabbath.
Jesus has moved away from Jerusalem and travelled north to the Sea of Galilee.
We know the approximate time of the year as we are told that in verse 4 “The Jewish Passover Feast was near.” So we know it is spring time, within 30 days of the Passover.
If he thought that he and his followers could get away and have a quiet time together, he was mistaken. People saw where he was going and they followed him. They had heard him preach and they had seen the miracles he had performed, especially healing the sick.
This was a time when there was not very much medical help available, especially if you were not rich. Having said that today God heals miraculously even though we can benefit from all the modern advances in medicine.
So a vast crowd has come to see and hear Jesus. Its thought that he sat in what was a natural theatre where people could see and hear him as he talked. And in the tradition of the day, Jesus sat down to talk to his listeners.
We are not told what he said to the crowd but we can guess from other stories in the gospels that he taught about the Kingdom of God and how to be right with God.
Other versions of this story suggest that its getting late in the day and is nearly time of for the evening meal. And so in v5 Jesus said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
In v7 Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
I understand that the average wage in this country is about £26,000. So eight months wages is about £17,000. Not the sort of money that an itinerant preacher and teacher would have immediately on hand.
V8&9 “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?” “
It seems incredible that in this huge crowd, Andrew has found possibly the one person who has any food and indeed is willing to share his meal. But how far will five small loaves and two small fishes go amongst so many people?
Jesus gives thanks for the food and it is distributed.
Everybody eats their fill and the food that was left filled 12 baskets.
A miracle indeed. The people being on the receiving end of the miracle begin to wonder about who Jesus is, and in v14 “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
We read in the gospels as well as in the Acts of the Apostles that signs and wonders ie miracles accompanied the good news of Jesus. And often today through the power of the Holy Spirit miracles do happen.
I think that we have one lesson to learn from today’s reading.
God is more than willing to intervene and act miraculously in our lives but we have to do our part. No matter what little we have to offer we must be willing to say” this is all I have Lord, please use it in this situation”. The rest is up to God and he will multiply what we have to fulfil his purpose.
We should be willing, like the lad with the five loaves and two fishes, to step out in faith and give what we have and let God perform the miracle.