Summary: John doesn’t use the language of miracles, or wonders, because he wants us to understand that these things point beyond themselves. They’re signs of God’s kingdom. It’s just as important that we pay attention to them, and that we understand them.
Sermon by Rev George Hemmings
I want to start this morning with a quick quiz. What do these signs mean? The first is easy. What about this one? Easy again. The great thing about signs is that they’re universal. No matter where you are you know what this sign is telling you. Signs are all around us. They help direct us, they tell us where to go, or what to do. They communicate important things quickly, like be careful, this is hot and if you touch it you’ll get burnt. Or this floor is very wet and you might slip over! It’s important that we pay attention to signs because they often tell us what we need to know.
John’s gospel is full of signs. Not signs on posts, but rather in the form of Jesus’ actions, and words. John doesn’t use the language of miracles, or wonders, because he wants us to understand that these things point beyond themselves. They’re signs of God’s kingdom. It’s just as important that we pay attention to them, and that we understand them properly.
As we pick up the story in chapter 6, we read that the crowds are following Jesus on account of the signs that he’s been performing. The words John uses are continuous, they’d kept following, because they kept seeing the amazing things that Jesus kept doing. In verse 2, John specifies it’s on account of the signs that Jesus was doing for the sick. We’ve skipped over a bit since last week’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. But if you turn back to the end of chapter 4, we read heals a royal official’s son. Then in chapter 5, while back in Jerusalem he heals a man who’s been sick for over thirty-eight years! As incredible as these things are, they might not warrant a huge crowd following Jesus into the wilderness. But as John writes at the end of his gospel;
Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. John 20:30
John’s just picked the highlights. The two healing signs that are in chapters 4 & 5 are just a small sample of the incredible things Jesus’s been doing for the sick. It’s on account of these signs that the crowds are following him.
Now, sometime after this, Jesus takes his disciples off to the Sea of Galilee. It’s an area many of them would have been familiar with. Jesus takes them up one of the mountains and sits down with them. In the other gospels we read that Jesus took them there to escape from the crowds. They needed to be debriefed on all that had been going on, and to get some good old fashioned R&R! But no sooner has Jesus sat down with his disciples than he looks up and sees the great crowd that’s been following them!
In Mark’s account, we’re told that Jesus saw the crowds were like a sheep without a shepherd and he had great compassion for them, and he began to teach them many things. John tells us that Jesus’ compassion was also for their immediate physical needs. He looks out at the crowd, and even while they’re still gathering around he’s concerned for them. He turns to Phillip and asks;
‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’
Of the twelve disciples, Philip’s the natural one to ask, as he hails from Bethsaida, a nearby city. If any of the disciples know where they might get food for the crowd its Phillip.
John’s like someone telling a story who can’t help but give out spoilers, dropping hints about what’s going to happen. He’s probably not the kind of person you’d want to go and see a movie with! He wants us to be clear in verse 6, that Jesus already knew the answer to the question. We’re reminded of Matthew 6:8, that God knows our needs before we even ask him. Jesus is aware of our needs, and is more than capable of meeting them, even before we know what they are, let alone ask him. Even before the crowds gathered, before the question of food ever came up, Jesus was aware of the crowd’s need. Jesus already knew what he was going to do, but he asked the question to test his disciples, to see how far they’d come in their faith and understanding. It was a test; one they didn’t do so well in.
A few weeks ago when Sarah was baptized, she said a great thing, that she was still learning, still growing in her faith. It’s something we all do, we never reach the point of knowing everything, of having all the answers, but we persist in following Christ. It’s why we need to keep reading the bible, keep studying God’s word, and applying it to our lives. So it’s good to get these reminders that even the disciples had to keep learning and growing in their faith!