Summary: God’s power and provisions are superabundant for those who trust and obey.
Only one of Jesus’ miracles is recorded by all four evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. God chose to describe the person and work of his Son from four different angles, four perspectives. Each author brings a unique point of view to his account as each writes for a different audience. Some events in Jesus’ life are described by two or three of the men; sometimes a particular account will be included by only one of the authors. But today’s story, the miracle of the multiplication of five small loaves and two fish into a feast for thousands, is retold by all four gospel writers.
In the last 50 years or so, it has become popular to claim that this was no miracle at all, but rather a study in peer pressure. Thousands of men were hording food under their tunics (as the claim goes), when they saw a little boy give his food to Jesus. This act of generosity shamed them into opening their hearts and sharing what they brought. As a result, every person received a little food.
That’s cute, but utter nonsense. In fact, one reason every writer includes this miracle is that it was so public and so powerful as to make an undeniable and irrefutable statement about Jesus’ person and ministry. Please listen as I read John 6.1-15. [Pray.]
John does not say that women and children were present in addition to the men; Matthew adds that detail. Matthew 14.21: “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” We do not know how many besides, but it is easy to imagine another 5000 hungry people, or 10,000—probably more.
If you have never attended an event where ten to fifteen thousand people have to be fed, it is hard to imagine the difficulty of the problem facing the disciples. Stan and I have attended a Biblical Counseling Training Course in Lafayette for several years where 1500 people are fed each day. You cannot simply say, “Here is the food; come and get it.” In the chaos people would be trampled and many would go without. At Lafayette, they divide us into groups, send us through various stations and monitor us to make sure we stay in single file lines.
To make the situation harder, this is not a worship service or a compliant church group. The crowds following Jesus are not a calm and orderly bunch looking for a bottled water. They are tired and hungry, and they want a display of power.
Pastor Tim Keller compares the “large crowd” to an audience at a rock concert. A bit unruly, maybe close to a mob.
Pastor John MacArthur writes: “This crowd was not motivated by faith, repentance, or genuine love for Jesus. On the contrary, they followed the Lord ‘because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.’ They were thrill seekers who failed to grasp the true significance of Jesus’ miraculous signs—which pointed unmistakably to Him as the Son of God and the Messiah. They flocked to see his works, but ultimately refused to accept his words. They sought the benefit of His power in their physical lives, but not in their spiritual lives.”
All of this sets the scene. The disciples are anxious: “What are we going to do?” Maybe they fear for their safety, or at least the safety of Jesus. Pressure is mounting, palms are sweating, some are spying out paths of escape if they must make a run for it.
A huge and hungry crowd; tired and with tempers growing short. Thrill seekers wanting power and freedom—wanting a king who will take back what the tyrannical government has wrongfully stolen. It is a powder keg needing only a spark to explode.
So how does the Master respond? He asks a question designed, not to alleviate pressure, but to increase it: “Phillip, where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Do not overlook the wisdom of this teaching technique. Jesus does not immediately give the answer; he asks a hard question. Jesus does not calm their concerns; he cranks up the heat by clarifying the problem. Here is guidance for all who would teach and lead, whether in your homes or when sharing your faith in an evangelistic opportunity. Often people are looking for the ease of the “right” answer. Jesus asks a better question. He is about to show that, as God in human flesh, he provides for our every need. But to get there, he begins with a question which exposes our shortcomings.
1. God Provides for Every Need by Showing Us Our Inadequacies (John 6.5-9)
Philip looks over the crowd, quickly estimates the number, and takes a guess at what would be required to feed so many: “Two hundred denarii. Why even discuss where to purchase the bread needed, we don’t have the kind of money necessary.”