Summary: Hunger in the wilderness and wind at sea BOTH can kill: but the Rescuer comes.
A. THE FEEDING OF THE 5,000 (John 6:1-15)
It was now nearly a year since Jesus had cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem, and Passover was fast approaching (John 6:4). Jesus and His disciples had tried to withdraw from the throng in Galilee, and sought some rest and relaxation in the Golan Heights: but the crowds followed. Just this one time in the year the grass is green (Mark 6:39), and no doubt lambs skipped in the fields as the Good Shepherd tended His own flock with the words to local boy Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5).
Sometimes Jesus makes us face up to the magnitude of our problems in order to demonstrate our total dependence upon Him. It is a comfort to know that He already knows what He is going to do (John 6:6)! Poor Philip was overwhelmed, quickly calculating in his head that even eight months wages would only provide a small portion for each person.
Andrew now volunteered a boy with a packed lunch: “but what is that among so many?” (John 6:9). Our gifts and offerings seem so small, a drop in the ocean: but as Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, each drop goes toward filling the ocean. Jesus takes our little, “gives thanks” (the same word as in the Communion, from which we have “Eucharist”), and transforms it into plenty (John 6:11).
Think of it: 5,000 men, plus who knows how many women and children, and each one was filled to the full; and there was more gathered up in leftover fragments than there had been at the start. There were twelve baskets full, the same number as the tribes of Israel, symbolising God’s sufficient provision for all of His people. The sign was so powerful that the Galileans were ready to pronounce Jesus king right then and there (John 6:14-15).
B. THE LORD WALKING ON WATER
The sea can be such a frightening, unpredictable element that even hardened sailors find themselves overwhelmed at times. If we enter the darkness without our Lord Jesus, this magnifies our terror. Yet when He draws near this also, inexplicably, gives rise to fear.
The children of Israel were fearful as they stood by the shore between the boisterous waves of the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptians, soon after the first Passover. Moses sensed that God was going to bring about a mighty deliverance and instructed the people, “Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD.” Yet the time for waiting soon passed, and the LORD commanded, “Go forward” (Exodus 14:13-15).
The things which strike fear into our hearts themselves run in fear when God appears in our midst (Psalm 77:16). We hear that familiar voice which tells us to stop being afraid (John 6:20). Even the stormy waves dare not defy God when He appears in the midst of the sea, and we are soon conveyed to our destination (Psalm 107:23-30).
This short passage (John 6:16-21) contains the fifth significant “sign” in John’s Gospel. We have already seen the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-11), the healing of a courtier’s son (John 4:46-54), the healing of a lame man (John 5:1-15), and the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-15). We have yet to see the healing of a man born blind (John 9), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11).
This chapter also furnishes us with the first of the seven great “I am” saying of Jesus in John’s Gospel (John 6:35), which John 6:20 anticipates. “It is I” in John 6:20 is the same as the expression “I am,” which is the name of God. The significance of this is surely not lost on the Evangelist, nor on his Greek-speaking Jewish readers.
The divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ is an article of the Christian faith taught by the Lord Himself, without which we shall die in our sins (John 8:24). This divinity is attested in His “lifting up” (John 8:28), which speaks both of His crucifixion and of His subsequent exaltation; yet God the Son remains both one with, and distinct from, God the Father (John 8:16; John 8:18). The Lord’s audience understood Him to be claiming other-worldliness (John 8:23; John 8:58) when they took up stones with the intent to kill Him as a heretic (John 8:59)!
Jesus proclaimed His divinity in the seven famous “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel (John 6:35; John 8:12; John 10:7; John 10:11; John 11:25; John 14:6; John 15:1). When He used the same expression to those who sought to arrest Him, they fell backward (John 18:6). It was echoed privately to His disciples at the last supper (John 13:19), and as He walked on the water (John 6:20).
APPLICATION (of John 6:16-21)
1. The church at times seems like a boat tossing about on the waves of uncertainty and doubt, fearing that she may yet be irrelevant to those whom she has left on the shore, oftentimes seeming to lack the Lord’s presence. Yet when we receive the Lord back into our fellowship we see the results of all our labours at the oars, and are conveyed immediately onto the shores of spiritual success. Finally, too, after all the centuries of the Church struggling on without the immediate, visible presence of her Lord and Master, she sees Him anew at the Second Coming, and she is conveyed away to her heavenly haven.