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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Four-Gospel Miracle




Every day during this season of Lent we’re looking at the miracles of Jesus – his spectacular displays of supernatural power that are reported in the Gospels.    

 

A number of years ago I read about a very large church that sponsored a special Sunday morning event: “Feed the 5,000 Day.” 

 

The first 5,000 people who showed up received a fish sandwich – bread and fish – passed out by Ronald McDonald himself. 

 

You wonder if that day ended the way that Jesus’ day ended on the occasion of the original miracle – with the main speaker going out of his way to alienate most of a huge crowd that was grateful for a free happy meal.  Here’s what we read in John 6:5-13:

 

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

 

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”  There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about 5,000 of them.  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over.  Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

 

Apart from the resurrection, this is the only miracle that is reported in all four Gospels, which suggests it was deeply meaningful to the first generation of Christians. 

 

Two lessons are immediately obvious.  When we put even meager resources into Jesus’ hands, they are more than enough.  And while he is the one who generates the miraculous feast, he insists on using our hands to pass this blessing on to others. 

 

What’s interesting about this text is the number of numbers.  First, there’s the number of those in the crowd.  Apparently the ushers were standing towards the back, feverishly making notes on their little attendance cards, thinking, “This is even bigger than Mother’s Day!” 

 

As far as we know, this is the largest crowd that ever heard Jesus speak.  John tells us, “the men sat down, about 5,000 of them.”  The other Gospels point out that this total did not include the women and children who were present. 

 

Thus there may have been as many as 20,000 people in the crowd.  It’s worth noting that while the Gospel writers didn’t count the women and children, Jesus did.  He fed them all.

 

The other numbers concern limitations.  Philip gasps, “It would take eight months’ wages to pick up the check for this picnic!” 

 

The disciples also count what they have with absolute precision.  “We have seven items, Lord:  Five loaves and two fish.  That is the boundary of our resources.  What exactly do you plan to do with seven items?” 

 

This, however, turns out to be the day they discover that followers of Jesus must learn to count to eight.  Jesus himself is the greater Reality that overshadows all our limitations.

 

Check out the crowd’s response following this astonishing provision of food:  “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15).

 

During the first century, a number of rabbis had been teaching that when the Messiah finally came he would restore the daily provision of manna that God had provided for forty years after the Exodus.  When the Messiah arrived on earth, it would be free lunches for everybody.

 

The crowd in John chapter six isn’t hungry for Jesus.  Their agenda is another miracle – the bread that miraculously appeared during the time of Moses.

 

If we are utterly honest about our own prayers, isn’t this where we often find ourselves?  Our lips may say, “Lord, give me the strength to do what you want,” but in our hearts we’re actually sighing, “Lord, give me the strength to do what I want.” 

 

Jesus’ agenda is not to open a divine catering service.  He doesn’t want to become somebody’s meal ticket.  His intention is to capitalize on the reality of the crowd’s hunger and to say, “I know what you really want.  The only thing that will ultimately satisfy you is trusting me.  I am the Bread of Life.  I am not a side dish.  I am not dessert.  I am life’s main course.” 

 

The crowd’s response comes in verse 41: “At this the Jews began to grumble about him…” All these years they’ve been waiting for God’s Chosen One, and when he finally shows up he’s the kid from down the street whose mother became pregnant under suspicious circumstances, and who grew up to be a blue-collar worker in the construction industry.  How can this be the Messiah?

 

This teaching proves to be the breaking point even for some of his core followers. 

 

Consider verse 60: “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?’” 

 

The word “hard” here doesn’t mean hard to understand.  The crowd knows exactly what Jesus is claiming.  This is simply outrageously hard to accept.

 

It’s hard for us, too.  Most messages in our culture are about making life easier.  Jesus intentionally and provocatively makes things harder. 

 

Those who experienced the miracle that day – the ones who ate the loaves and fishes – were forced to answer two questions:  What kind of kingdom are we waiting for?  And what kind of king do we really want?

 

Every morning we have to answer the same two questions.

 

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Would you like to explore previous reflections, and learn more about this ministry?  Check out glennsreflections.com.

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