Note: What follows is Sermon #1 of three messages based on John 6. This sermon was delivered July 26, 2015 at Nairn Mennonite Church, Nairn, Ontario, Canada. I was the guest preacher on these four occasions. Sermon #2 is “Three Questions and One Answer”. Sermon #3 is “Living Bread”.
Sermon: “Two Signs” – John 6:1-21
Signage is very important in many contexts – along a highway, in a city or town as you try to find your way, in an airport as you connect to your next flight, in an office building as you locate the office you want to do some business in, a park as you seek the desired hiking trail, a grocery store as you search for the baking supplies. It is even an academic discipline called “wayfinding” – defined as “[that which] encompasses all of the ways in which people and animals orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.”
The word “signs” occurs often. People asked Jesus for a “sign” of the end times (Mark 13:4). The Pharisees argued with him wanting a “sign” from heaven to test Him (Mark 8:11). The Lord Himself used this term when to He spoke of the case of Jonah being delivered form the great fish as a sign of His coming resurrection: “there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet” (Matt.12:39).
The Gospel of John uses this term throughout, whenever the Lord performs a miracle. “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11). Biblical scholars commonly refer to the seven signs found between 1:19 and 12:50 in John’s Gospel:
Today, I want to turn our attention to numbers 4 and 5 in this list. In fact, today, we will consider the two signs found in John 6, and in the next message we will continue in John 6 by looking at Jesus’ own interpretation of these two miracles. But first, the miracles themselves.
Jesus Feeds 5,000
6 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 signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival 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, “It would take more than half a year’s wages [i.e., 200 denarii] to 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 they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 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 sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
All scriptures are from New International Version (NIV) . Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
It begins by saying “some time after this” – after He had healed a paralyzed man at a pool, after He had been challenged for ‘working’ on the Sabbath and defended Himself by appealing to His oneness with God the Father and the common authority He possessed as a member of the Godhead, and after He had spoken of His confirmation from the Father. That is the immediate background. So, the crowd was intrigued by Him and followed Him and gather ‘round the hills in what today is known as the Golan Heights.
Verse 4 has the little sentence “The Jewish Passover Festival was near.” This statement John inserts for a theological reason – because of the following teaching that Jesus gives about the bread of life being given for the life of the world – we’ll see this in vv. 33, 51. the reference also explains the fervour of the crowd who later want to force Him to become king, because the Passover Feats had become a nationalistic celebration, a time of nationalistic zeal.
The story continues with Jesus asking Philip how they would feed them. He knows how but He wanted to help Philip’s faith along. Philip replies,’ Well, we could buy them lunch but that would take 200 denarii.’ A denarii was a day’s wage for a labourer in Palestine, so if we use a minimum wage of 10/hr. as a guide and an 8 hour day, that would be $80/day, or for 200 days, a total of $16,000. Let’s say we have a gathering of some kind at a park of campgrounds in our community, with music and a speaker, and someone suggests we should feed the crowd, and to get some sandwich basics and salad and lemonade and coffee would be $16,000. We might look at each other and say, I think we could raise that if given some time, but there is no way we have that much on hand right now. This is the dilemma Philip figures out.
So, another disciple, Andrew, has thought that maybe they could pool the lunches on hand -but there is only one boy with a couple of fish (a side dish for the bread) and five loaves (barley cakes) – still no way enough because the crowd at the park is 5000 men plus women and children (maybe 20,000 or more).
In verses 10-12 Jesus Christ shows He can supply the needed resources. He “blesses” God the Father, perhaps with the commonly used prayer of thanks, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.” Then, He multiplies the fish and the loaves with enough for everyone – more than enough, all they wanted plus 12 baskets full left over.
v.14 – After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
Signs point to something. The people see this sign as pointing to the person of Jesus – He is “the Prophet who is to come into the world”, a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-19 and the promise of a prophet like Moses. This is fine in so far as it goes – a Prophet who provides food and victory (as Moses provided manna in the wilderness and deliverance form Egypt) – but not far enough in seeing Him as their deliverer from sin.
Jesus Walks on the Water
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles [5-6 km] they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Quickly, I will mention the second sign. All four Gospels have the feeding of the 5000 and three of them follow it with this incident of Jesus walking on water. the disciples had cast off to cross the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had withdrawn to a mountain for some time alone. Later, He approaches the 12, about 5-6 km out on the lake, while a strong wind blew and the waters were rough. They were afraid of the storm and then they saw someone walking on water and were afraid of what they saw. Then Jesus told them not to be afraid, got into the boat when they were willing to have Him, and it immediately reached land.
So, here we have two signs. They both point to Jesus as the creator who made the world in the first place and can multiply food supplies (as happens in the order of things now with crops of wheat and fish in the waters) and can overcome the laws of physics that He made at the beginning.
He wants us to see who He is. Not just for the miracles but because our hearts long for a relationship with God and we have to realize that Jesus is God Whom we were made for.
When we read about Jesus Christ we need to pay attention to Him, as a Person, not just to what He does. We need to think through why He came into this world in the first place. We need to look beyond physical supplies like food and storms to the Person who governs these things and who came to give us life free from sin and its consequences and to give us peace in the storms. and we need to examine our hearts and see if they are truly reliant on Him.