Laying the Bricks of Life
There are only two miracles that are recorded in all four Gospels; the resurrection and the feeding of five thousand. I believe that makes this miracle significant. Not because it was a big “wow factor” miracle, which it was, but I believe the apostles saw it as significant for a much deeper reason, which I hope to unfold for you today.
To begin with, I’d like to set the scene for you. Jesus and the disciples are in the northeastern corner of the Sea of Galilee, somewhere in the vicinity of Bethsaida. They are about a hundred and forty miles from Jerusalem. You could drive the distance in about three hours today and walking took roughly three days in ancient times. Though this is the very next miracle after the healing at the pool in John 5, it is believed this miracle occurs a whole year later, which suggests John’s gospel is more structured thematically than chronologically. In John chapter 5, he mentions that Jesus was in Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews, and most scholars believe this feast was Passover and marked the second year of Jesus’ ministry. John tells us that the feeding of five thousand took place near Passover as well, but we believe this was Passover in the third year of Jesus’ ministry because Luke’s Gospel, which is more chronological in nature, tells us that shortly after the feeding of five thousand Jesus began to prepare the disciples for His death and make His trip back to Jerusalem.
Now that we have established some context, let’s look at our passage.
1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
God Qualifies Us
God Qualifies Us
Let’s begin with verses 5-7. When I first read the passage, these verses really stood out to me. It seemed like a ludicrous situation, my sensibilities just couldn’t grasp why this conversation even took place.
5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Did Jesus really need to buy food? He is the Son of God, He doesn’t need money for anything. He can speak anything into or out of existence that He wishes. Of course, John notes this is the case in
6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
This reminds me of High-school. The famed pre-test. A pre-test is when a teacher gives you a test on material they haven’t even taught you yet. Who here has had a teacher that liked to give pre-tests?
Why in the world do teachers do that? Is it to see their students fail? Is that the point, to make them feel dumb?
So, why give the pre-test? Teachers don’t give pre-tests because they are cruel and take joy in seeing their students fail. Teachers give a pre-test to get the student to understand what it is they need to learn. By taking a pre-test and seeing the results, a student becomes more committed to their studies because they now understand that they don’t know the material the teacher is about to cover.
I wonder at what point the light bulb clicked on for Phillip and he realized: “Of course Jesus knew there was no way to buy enough bread for these people, but He wanted me to understand Him in a new way. He wanted my mind and heart prepared when he revealed that the correct answer is: “Jesus, why would we buy food when God can provide all we need and more?”
As you can see from this example, times when we are faced with difficult situations in life are pre-tests. God is preparing our hearts and minds to understand what it is He needs to teach us. Christians are the bricklayers building God’s church, and God is qualifying us for the job.
Jesus shows us blueprints
Jesus shows us blueprints
Moving right along, a lot of people look right past verse 4 as simply a passing comment John is making about the time of year. But, in context, I think it has a much deeper meaning. I believe that Jesus sees this crowd, realizes the time of year, knows the miracle He is to perform, and knows what will come of it.
Understand that the Jews refer to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 18:15 as a key text on the Messiah:
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—
The Jews are looking for the Messiah to be a prophet like Moses. Because of this, they believed the Messiah would bring them deliverance from suffering, like Moses did when he led their forefathers out of Egypt. They believed the Messiah would provide for them, like Moses did with manna and water in the wilderness. And they believed that the Messiah would make his appearance at the time of Passover, when Moses became their forefathers prophet. Passover is the exact right time for the Messiah to make Himself known.
Now let’s consider that all of Jesus’ miracles were signs pointing to a deeper lesson. Their purpose was always to reveal His authority so that we would know He speaks the words of God. They are the blueprints for God’s work. This was par for the course for prophets. They performed a sign to get the peoples attention and then they gave God’s message to the people. In the same way, Jesus provides a miracle for them. Can you imagine what is going on in their minds? Jesus is given a basket with five loaves and two fish. These aren’t loaves of bread like we think of in modern times. In Jesus’ time a loaf of bread was more like a pizza crust roughly the size of a small pizza. This was a single meal for one or two people, likely a father and son who came out to see Jesus and this was their lunchbox.
I picture in my mind it is like a magic show when the magician stuffs a handkerchief into his palm and then pulls out a streamer of handkerchiefs that just keeps going and going and going. How long is this thing? All the kids are wide eyed and amazed.
In a like manner, Jesus takes this basket and just keeps reaching in and pulling out more food in a stream that seems to never end! Their eyes must have been wide as dishes and their jaws drooping to the ground. Amazement has overtaken them. The disciples have had to thought at some point “Should we even be touching this stuff?” I mean, obviously this is Holy food, they have never seen a miracle like this before. That’s what I always love when I read about Jesus’ miracles, many of His miracles can be likened to the miracles of the OT, only Jesus did them bigger and better. Through Moses, God provided Israel with manna in the wilderness. But manna was a flour-like substance that remained on the ground after the morning dew settled and had to be gathered and made into dough for cooking. Jesus produces fish, a living creature, and cooked bread ready to eat … out of thin air!
Nevertheless, Jesus leaves the crowd with only one conclusion. He is the Messiah. And they get it right! In verse 14, they say that Jesus is “indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world”. So if Jesus intended to reveal Himself as the Messiah and the crowd got it right and identified Him as the Messiah, then why did Jesus withdraw? Isn’t that a puzzling reaction?
15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Hindsight is 20/20 and many commentators jump to the fact that Jesus withdrew from the crowd because they obviously mis-understood the Messiah. But Jesus knew how they would interpret His miracle, even the disciples still had mis-conceptions about the Messiah. If His intention was to abandon the crowd because they didn’t understand, then why perform the miracle in the first place? He could have just told the crowd to leave, or even corrected them all right on the spot. Some have interpreted Jesus’ withdrawal as Him thinking “No this is not the way, it is not time yet.” But that constrains Jesus to human understanding and assumes He doesn’t know outcomes beforehand, which I believe is inaccurate. If we keep in mind that miracles are blueprints meant to reveal the deeper truth of God’s work, I feel it becomes apparent that Jesus withdrew in order to let the enormity of the miracle they just witnessed sink in, because He is about to present them with a truth that has enormous consequences. Jesus provided them with God’s blueprint and now it was time to show them the materials.
Jesus is our cornerstone
Jesus is our cornerstone
In fact, when the crowd finds Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, he lectures them with the truth. We aren’t going to get deep into Jesus’ sermon tonight, but I would like to give you a synopsis of it as a point of context.
The Jews misunderstood God’s plan. They loved Jesus and followed Him for what they could get out of Him. Jesus clarifies that following Him does not mean He will meet all your physical needs, it means that He will meet your spiritual needs. Jesus declares He is the Bread of Life. Jesus tells us that our greatest spiritual need is salvation. Jesus tells us that He must die for us to have life. Jesus tells us we can only receive salvation through Him. The majority of the crowd leaves Jesus because His plan does not match up to their plan.
That brings us to the significance of this miracle. I believe the apostles saw this miracle as equally important to the resurrection because of the message it points to. The resurrection was the sign that pointed to Christ’s ultimate authority as the Son of God. The feeding of five thousand revealed the unmatched providence of Christ. The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian church, the feeding of five thousand is the blueprint, and Jesus, the Bread of Life, is our cornerstone.
Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral?
Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral?
Like the ancient Jews, some believers today only follow Jesus for what they can get out of Him. How common is it to see Christians inserting ideas of spiritual power into modern ideals? We look for spiritual power in politics, in finances, in the size of our church, in our influence, and in our popularity; yet fail to look for spiritual power where the signs point us to - salvation through Christ and service to God. How many follow God to serve their purpose instead of their purpose being to serve God? How often does our service to God depend on our schedule instead of our schedule depending on our service to God?
Canon Roger Lloyd, an archdemon in the church of satan, once instructed his subordinates on an ancient and effective satanic strategy. “Insert yourself into the simple situations which call for plain and obvious duties, and complicate them”.
As Christians, it is our plain and obvious duty to serve God above EVERYTHING else. When we complicate that fact by inserting ourselves into it, we are doing the work of satan for him.
Nevertheless, God gives us signs everyday pointing to what His plan is and what we are to do in our lives. He gives us signs continuously showing us what His true concerns are in our lives. However, if we are like the crowd in our passage and are wrapped up in the prosperity of our physical lives, we will miss the true purpose and glory of Christ’s message. You see, it isn’t an issue of whether or not God is working in our lives and giving us signs; the problem is our focus.
There’s a story of a man who approached a laborer who was laying bricks and asked him, “What are you doing?” The laborer said, “Can’t you see I’m laying bricks?”
The man then walked over to another bricklayer and asked, “What are you doing?” And the workman answered with pride, “I’m building a cathedral.”
Both were physically doing the same thing. But the first laborer was occupied with the present task, and the other was concerned with the ultimate goal.
Are you consumed with laying bricks? I don’t know about you, but I want to build a cathedral!