Summary: God makes the impossible in our lives possible when we act on His word and trust Him for what only He can do. As the old hymn says, “It is no secret what God can do. What He’s done for others, he’ll do for you”.
The Gospel reading which we just heard from John 6:1-21 is full of rich imagery. Although the story of the feeding of the 5,000 appears in all four Gospels, John’s version has a slightly different meaning. In fact, John includes only seven of Jesus’ miracles in his Gospel, and in each miracle the believer is brought closer to God. Each miracle invites us to reflect on what the miracle says about Jesus.
John most likely included this version of the feeding of the 5,000 to provide additional information that was not recorded in the other three Gospels. For the early Christians, this story got to the heart of something they knew was important about Jesus, about who he was, what he was up to, and what he found to be important. John’s recording of this miracle showed the creative power of Christ and set the stage for Jesus’ talk about the “bread of life” in the remaining verses of Chapter 6. The purpose of John’s Gospel is to show that Jesus is the mind of God in human form, so the signs in John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000 are designed to show God at work in the lives of his people.
The feeding of the 5,000 represents both the manna that came from heaven while the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years and faith in Jesus. It is also a sign of the Last Supper. It represents the covenant that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is God’s provision for the world’s salvation.
The barley loaves represented Elisha’s feeding of the 100 people with a small supply of barley loaves as mentioned in 2 Kings 4:42-44. Barley bread was a bread of poor quality that was eaten by poor people. Barley loaves were less nutritious, less tasty and harder to digest than bread made with wheat. The small lunch represents the great things God can do with whatever we bring to him, no matter how big or how small. The 12 baskets of leftovers represent both God’s abundance (which means that there is enough for everyone) and the 12 tribes of Israel. The crowd’s desire to make Jesus an earthly king represents our desire to fit God into our expectations of him instead of fitting ourselves into God’s expectations of us. Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm represents God in our midst and God coming to us when we are in trouble.
The Bible uses the word “signs” to speak of miracles because God has a special place for miracles. Jesus used his miracles to point people to God, and it was God’s power that made Jesus’ miracles possible. In other words, Jesus opened the people’s eyes to see and their hearts to believe, but the people in the crowd only saw Jesus as a provider for their earthly needs. They did not see the signs as indications that God would provide for their heavenly needs and their spiritual needs. Jesus wanted the people to live in him and partake of his spiritual food, but the people wanted Jesus to stay with them so they could continue to enjoy the physical food that he offered.