A New Lesson from the Feeding of the 5,000

Today at church the pastor’s sermon focused on the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  It was a good sermon, and I am always moved by his passion for preaching the Word of God but it wasn’t his points that jumped out at me.  It wasn’t the passion with which he spoke, and it wasn’t even the miracle itself.

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is one that many of us are probably familiar with.  It is, by my understanding, the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all 4 gospels and it shows his great power.  Now there is some debate on the meaning of the number 5,000; some take the text literally as 5,000 people, while others place it upwards of 10,000 to as many as 15,000 if you include the women and children who were likely there since the count of 5,000 likely only counted the men.  I tend to lean in favor of the latter mostly because of John 6:10 where it specifies “the men… about 5,000 in number” but that is neither here nor there.  I would argue that it doesn’t matter because truly none of us can feed 5 people until they are satisfied by miraculously multiplying the contents of a child’s lunchbox, let alone 5,000-15,000.

Tangent aside, I’d like to share some things that jumped out at me as we read this passage.

The Text: John 6:1-14

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 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?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii[a] worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “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!”

Point 1: Across the Pond

We read this story and usually focus the devotion of the crowd, the disbelief of the disciples, the offering of the boy, and the work of Jesus; but looking beyond the typical sermon points, I realized that Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee.  I know, I know… it says it in verse 1, but it’s one of those things that always flew under my radar.  Reading it again, it sank in that Jesus had left the lands of the Jews.  When the text speaks of Him going up the mountain, it wasn’t a Jewish mountain; it was a pagan one.  Now, I’m not exactly sure if the crowd consisted of Jews, Pagans or both but because it says that they followed Him because they saw the signs (miracles) He was performing, I think it’s safe to assume that they were probably Jewish.

Point 2: It Was PASSOVER

Verse 4,

“Now the Passover, the Feast of the Jews, was at hand.”

At hand implies that the time is now.  Having just celebrated Passover with my family, it’s still fresh on my mind.  Passover was a pilgrimage feast.  Jewish men were supposed to travel to Jerusalem to have their Passover lamb inspected by the priests.  They were supposed to eat a special meal of roasted lamb,bitter herbs and unleavened (flat) bread in remembrance of what God did for the Jewish people.  And they were supposed to honor the day of Passover, regardless of which day it was, as a Sabbath.  Clearly if these were Jews who followed him across the Sea of Galilee, they weren’t very devout.  Instead of being in Jerusalem with their offering and they were in a pagan land, disregarding a Feast that God mandated as a “statute for every generation”, eating bread that was traditionally leavened, with fish instead of lamb and herbs.

Pretty much everything in this picture, from a devoted Jewish perspective, is hideously wrong.  But if it’s wrong, then why did Jesus do it?  I mean He wasn’t in Jerusalem either.  The answer: Because it’s not about legalism and religion; it’s about the heart of the people.  Rather than bringing their lamb to Jerusalem, they followed the Lamb to a most unexpected place.  Rather than eating the typical Passover meal, they ate what God himself provided for them and were satisfied.  While the religious leaders in Jersualem would have told them that they had sinned for traveling that far on the Sabbath, Jesus told them to sit and rest with Him.

Point 3: The Prophet

Well, I guess this has become a three point sermon.  In any event, the third thing that jumped out at me was the capital “P”  in verse 14,

“…they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into this world!'”

Bible translations are not as careless as most people seem to think.  It’s meticulous work that involves a mastery of languages and an understanding of Biblical context.  When we read passages of Scripture and see words that are capitalized out of place with a definitive before them, those are words that we out to take note of.  Isaiah was a prophet.  Daniel was a prophet.  John the Baptist was a prophet.  Jesus is the Prophet.  Make sense?

Now I know English, but the New Testament was originally written in Greek.  I don’t know Greek, but the Internet is a wonderful tool.  According to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges the usage of “the Prophet” here in the context of the peoples declaration goes back to Deuteronomy 18:15, in which God declares that He will raise up from Israel a Prophet.  It is this Prophet that the Jews await, known as the Messiah.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some of my thoughts with you all.  I am praying for you, and ask that you also pray for our nation and the world which seems to be falling apart around us.  Jesus is coming soon, but we still have work to do.


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