Jesus Feeds and Thins the Crowd (John 6)

posted in: Messages | 0
John 6 records two of the more extraordinary events of Jesus’ life, which is saying something considering his life was full of extraordinary events. The first is the feeding of the 5,000 followed immediately by Jesus walking on the water. And then John finishes the chapter with a long speech Jesus gives the crowds that liked the free food which ultimately ends with many of his followers leaving. It’s a rather interesting turn of events and there is a lot to cover, so let’s pray and get into it.
John 6
1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
Before we continue, I think it is worth our time for a short geography lesson.
Many of the stories of Jesus center around this Sea of Galilee. It’s where he called most of his disciples. It’s where the fishermen fished. It’s where He does the Sermon on the Mount and the stories of John 6 are all next to and on top of this small freshwater sea. In size, it is about 7 miles east to west and 14 miles north to south. Superimposed on Virginia Beach it looks pretty big, but compared to our local water features it is pretty small. Most of the action in the Gospels takes place around the northern half, with this feeding of the 5,000 most probably happening somewhere near Bethsaida on the north east shore. Bethsaida was a little fishing village where Peter, James, John, and Andrew grew up. The sea is surrounded by tall hills or short mountains depending on where you are from. And so, from a ways up one of those hills, you could see rather far and see most of the little towns scattered along the norther shore. It is this view that Jesus has as the story continues.
5 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?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
It’s stuff like this that show how Jesus had a playful sense of humor. I can imagine a little twinkle in his eye as he asks Philip the loaded question. He’s testing him. Will he think in terms of the physical world of what can be seen and touched where there are hard limitations of time and space – or will he think in terms of the spiritual world behind the physical world where Jesus is actually in control of everything and nothing is impossible for him?
7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
Physical world it is. Perhaps another disciple will do better.
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Physical world again. And indeed, in terms of his earthly wisdom he was correct. Such a small amount of food was really only enough for one, maybe two people. The child’s mother probably packed him a lunch. It’s not said how the boy’s food came to the attention of Andrew, but I believe the child offered it. Unlike the grown up disciples who had already witnessed countless healings and Jesus even controlling weather, this child had faith that Jesus could do anything and so offered what little he had  understanding that giving to Jesus does not result in me having less, but all of us having more.
No doubt this kind of child-like faith made Jesus smile.
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there – not counting the women and children, so probably closer to 10,000). 11 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.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
A boy offers Jesus all that he has, which was less than one basket full. Jesus takes that and feeds 10,000 people until they are full, then collects 12 full baskets of leftovers.
This is exactly the kind of thing Paul is talking about in
2 Corinthians 9
6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.
The boy gave all he had and got in return all he needed with plenty left over to share with 10,000 others!
Do you think he went home hungry that day? Do you think he ever forgot that experience?
This miracle of God’s amazing generosity and power of provision is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. All the others are included in only three or fewer accounts. Do you think God is trying to tell us something?
I believe, other than the fact that Jesus is totally awesome and all powerful and super loving and generous, I think one thing that God wants to show us in this story and in so many others in Scripture is that when you give to God it does not result in you having less, but in everybody having more. Yourself especially.  Why would you pass up on such a promise?  I’ll tell you why – because the enemy of your soul will stop at nothing to prevent you from experiencing God’s goodness in this way. Don’t let him. Don’t believe his lies. Believe God and His Word! Obey Him and see the miracle!
Anyway, I would love to spend all day on that topic, but there’s still much more to the story. Apparently the people were rather impressed with this miracle. You know how much people like food. It’s even better than seeing people healed!
John 6
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
By this they are referring to their concept of the Messiah. One of their theories included the possibility of several Prophets like Moses and Elijah coming before the conquering king Messiah came to bring Israel back to prominence. And apparently they were ready to just skip to the end…but Jesus wasn’t going to let them.
Matthew records that Jesus instructed his disciples to get in their boat and go to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowd. Mark says that Jesus told them to go to Bethsaida. Luke doesn’t say what happened next, and John here just says Jesus went off by himself and…
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.
This is one of those cases where you have to do some real thinking through of the scenario to understand the seemingly contradictory accounts. Scholars do not all agree but the most probable explanation to me is that as the people were thinking of making Jesus king by force, Jesus became aware of their thoughts and instructed the disciples to leave before they too were swept up in the frenzy. Remember that they too were looking for a Messiah king and were probably getting excited by this large crowd that was really liking Jesus at the moment. So, Jesus tells them to go to the other side of the lake by boat. Bethsaida is probably where they had left the boat they came in, with it being a familiar spot for them and it wasn’t that far from where they were. So, they walked down toward Bethsaida while Jesus dismissed the crowd and then retired further up the mountain by himself. The disciples probably got to their boat as evening was coming and got in to set across the lake for Capernaum which was on the other side of the lake. Experienced fishermen, this shouldn’t have taken them very long to go the few miles across the water.
18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
I’m not going to get into more detail about the water walking today. I made a video about it for the Life Groups. Certainly an amazing story. I will point out, however, that the other Gospels say that the shore they landed on was Genessaret, which is a little south of Capernaum where John says they were heading. And that upon landing the people there swarmed to him and went all over the countryside telling people about him and bringing the sick to him to be healed.
John skips that part and picks up the story on the next day.
22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
They had camped out on the mountainside where they ate – people didn’t travel much at night in those days, and they weren’t as pampered as we Americans are when it comes to our bedtime routines. Anyway, they wake up and notice that Jesus and his disciples are gone, and that Jesus had not gone with his disciples in the boat they came in. Then some boats from another town show up – John doesn’t say why – they were probably just fishermen or something. The people look in the boats, hoping that perhaps the disciples and Jesus had returned, but they weren’t there, so they take the boats themselves and head toward Capernaum hoping to find Jesus there. I’m not sure if they stole the boats or convinced the people from Tiberius to take them, but either way, they are intent on getting another free lunch.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
We learn near the end of the conversation that is beginning here that this is in Capernaum. Jesus and his disciple must have traveled there the day before after landing in Genessaret. And so, the people find him and ask a lame conversation starter kind of question. I picture it like a bunch of frantic people looking all over for him until they are out of breath, and they get word that someone spotted him and they all rush to him and surround him practically drooling over what they hope Jesus is going to cook up next. Then there’s that awkward moment when they realize they’re behaving like spoiled children so they try to save face with what they hope comes across as polite rather than betraying their true intentions.
“So, uh, hey Rabbi” (Rabbi means teacher and is a title of great respect.) “So, uh, how’s it going? What you up to? When did you get here, I didn’t see you arrive, we were just…you doing anything for lunch…I can buy this time….”
I imagine Jesus just staring at them for a moment, letting them squirm in the awkward silence. Then, just like he always does, he cuts through their charade and gets right to the heart of the matter.
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
“Dang it – how did he know!?”  You give people free food and they come running. You heal the sick and raise the dead and people yawn and ask what you’re going to do next?
Jesus continues…
27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Jesus just clued them in that he’s about to start talking about Spiritual things rather than Physical things, but you will see they totally miss that clue – as do many who read this text today. He’s saying, you guys are so concerned about food for your stomach, but you should really be concerned about food for your soul.
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
The law-minded people pick up on the word “work” and miss the rest of it, asking another question to keep the conversation going while trying to stay in control.
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Salvation is not by works but by faith in Jesus Christ. But of course, they are not really interested in that.
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Aha! They think they are clever. Bringing the conversation back to bread. Basically daring Jesus to feed them again as a “sign” so they will believe.  I guess the meal the day before wasn’t enough. They wanted daily food, like manna! Moses gave us daily bread – what can you do?
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Now they turn all spiritual thinking for sure this would trigger another free lunch. Noticed they dropped the title “rabbi.” They’ve been trying to manipulate Jesus and probably think they have won. But instead it’s Jesus who has THEM right where he wants them….what follows are some of the weightiest and theologically dense statements in Scripture. Most of which the people just completely ignore.
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
This is similar to the living water statements Jesus gave the Woman at the Well. Jesus is clearly speaking in spiritual terms, not physical.
36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
Just like he said in John 5:19 – the Son does nothing of his own, only what he sees the Father doing. This is our model as Christ followers. God’s will, not ours.
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Jesus is speaking of the rapture and the eventual resurrection at the end of the tribulation. Those who come to Jesus will be saved, will be resurrected, and have eternal life. Some deep stuff, but the Jews seem to only have heard part of it.
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
Again, they, like Andrew and Philip at the feeding of the 5,000, they are only thinking in terms of the physical. Looking at Jesus as a mere man from Nazareth whose parents they knew. It’s not surprising really. We would all do the same thing. That’s because of what Jesus says next.
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
This is a very important theological concept. Salvation is not something you and I can initiate. God himself must draw a person to Jesus.  But it is also my firm belief, based on 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, where it says that God wants all people to be saved, that God gives every person at least one chance to accept the Gospel, but He also gives us the option to say no. So, the best form of evangelism begins with prayer – prayer that God will draw that person to Himself, then ask if he wants to use you in facilitating that process.
Jesus continues…
45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.
You have to believe and accept all these things about Jesus to have eternal life, because, Jesus says…
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
It’s not surprising they would respond like this. What would you do if I started saying things like this about my flesh? But Jesus knows the hardness of their hearts, so he steps it up another notch…
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
And indeedm if you can’t look past the physical to see the spiritual truth he is illustrating, it is a hard teaching. They didn’t say they couldn’t understand it. Their complaint was that it was a hard teaching – the Greek is “unyieldingly harsh” – such that they question who can even stand to listen to such talk.
But the illustration of food is actually quite appropriate. John MacArthur notes five parallels between physical food and spiritual truth.
  1. Food is useless unless it is eaten. Likewise spiritual truth does no good unless it is internalized.
  2. Eating is prompted by hunger. Those who are already full of themselves and like doing things their own way will not be interested in the spiritual truth that will humble them and require them to change.
  3. The food you eat becomes part of you. You literally are what you eat, and the same is true in a spiritual sense. How many times have I talked about what you feed your brain? We are to become like Christ, therefore we must eat Him, ingest Him through His Word. Make his ways our ways. His thoughts our thoughts.
  4. Eating involves trust. You won’t eat something that you don’t trust is not going to kill you or make you sick. The act of eating something involves a great deal of trust, and likewise taking on the identity and will of Christ to replace your own requires serious trust.
  5. Eating is personal. No one else can eat for you, and no one else can be saved for you or become like Christ for you.
Jesus knew what he was doing in comparing our spiritual need for him to our physical need for food and drink. And it’s not that these things are hard to understand. It’s that people just don’t want it to be true because it means giving up my own will and desires for my life. To become like Christ is to become less like me. And that’s not something any of us naturally want to do. Including many of the people Jesus talked to that day.
Note that the disciples referred to here are not the Twelve. Jesus had many “disciples” people who pledged to follow him – mostly because they liked the things he was doing. But here Jesus is giving them a teaching that is not unlike threshing wheat – beating it against something hard to break the heads so the edible grain separates from the useless chaff. Jesus is not interested in half-hearted followers who are just looking for a free lunch but are unwilling to be the boy who gives up his own. He’s not interested in followers who just like to be seen with him but won’t internalize his teaching and obey him.
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?  62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 
I love that! Does this offend you? Well, you haven’t seen anything yet! What if you see me fly up in the clouds to heaven where I came from? Effectively, he’s saying, “If you can’t handle this teaching you might as well leave now.”
Then, it seems he calms down and uses this as a teaching moment for those who will stay, breaking away from the harsh teaching he says…
63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
He’s saying..Guys…I’m not talking about cannibalism. I’m talking spiritual talk. Haven’t you noticed yet that I’m always talking in terms of the spiritual? My kingdom is not of this world. The Spirit is what matters. The Flesh counts for nothing. Stop being so earthly minded.
It must have been frustrating.  He knew some would get it and others would not. Which is why he says…
64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
Again he repeats the truth that salvation is something God must initiate.
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Just 24 hours before, Jesus had a crowd of 10,000 people ready to crown him king. But instead of relishing in that and riding the wave of superficial belief to glory, Jesus gives them a teaching that he knew would expose their true motives and cause most of them to turn away. Jesus is not interested in large crowds. He’s interested in true disciples.
Then he turns to the Twelve…
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
That question is not only for the Twelve. It’s for you and me. It’s for us, Reality Church. This is the Christ we are pursuing. These are his words. Will we abandon him because things have gotten too difficult? The teaching to convicting? The environment less pleasing to the eye? The future uncertain?
Has it occurred to you that the reason God has brought us to where we are and set us on a quest of rediscovering who Jesus is in order to test our hearts? To separate the wheat from the chaff? To draw out those who are the true disciples from those who are only in it for the free food. The status. The appearance of godliness but with no intention of actually eating Christ in order to become like him.
I believe God is asking us that question. Testing us. Putting us through a hard time to see what we’re made of. May our answer be that of Peter’s…
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
How will you respond?  Let’s pray.

I Intentionally left the last two verses until now because what Jesus says here I believe still applies to His followers today.
70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
Scripture is clear. It’s not we who choose Jesus, but he who chooses us. And if you are listening to my voice right now, you are one he has chosen. Chosen from before the creation of the world to be one of his brothers or sisters. Chosen by God to become like Him.
But how you respond to that choosing is up to you. Jesus hand picked the twelve – knowing from the beginning that Judas, though chosen, would not respond with true faith and eventually betray him.
Do you realize that Judas didn’t know this about himself?
None of the disciples who followed Jesus really knew who they were following at the start. They all had a picture of the Messiah as a conquering king. They all had a picture of Jesus being the one who would usher in a better life for them here on earth – no more Roman oppression. But as they followed him and listened to his words and saw the things he did, it started to become clear that Jesus wasn’t planning to be that kind of Messiah. And this chain of events in John 6 is probably where Judas started to realize it. Jesus had just turned down what could have been an easy start to becoming king. He had 10,000 people ready to follow him, but instead of capitalizing on it, he gives a lesson that whittles them back down to presumably just the Twelve.
For Peter, the numbers didn’t matter. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him who Jesus was, despite him being different than expected. I believe the Holy Spirit revealed it to all of them, but some were slower in accepting it. And Judas never did.
My friends, the scenario hasn’t changed in our day. In this room right now and among those listening or watching online are Peters and Judases, and everything in between. And the question you need to ask yourself, or rather ask Jesus, is which one are you?
And the simple test you can apply to your heart to know is how do you respond when following Jesus no longer looks like you thought or hoped it should? Do you go in search of a Jesus that better fits what you want Him to be? Or do you respond like Peter with “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”