Scripture: John 6:1-15
The Bible tells us many things about Jesus, but there never does seem to be any account of Him being surprised. The more we will go through the Gospel of John and watch Jesus, the content actually seems to strongly support that He knew always what He was doing and what would transpire.
It would really be best to start the passage on the feeding of the 5,000 with the conclusive statement of the immediate scenario in verse 15: “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” Perhaps the most interesting part of many of the accounts of Jesus is how a particular scene wraps up or what causes Him to move on. Verse 15 is not the end of his interaction with the people that He fed, but it is the end of “Scene 1”; they will come to find Him again starting in John 6:22 and He will speak to them until v. 66. We must recognize that while the feeding of the 5,000 is a beautiful Bible story, it grows in being tainted with disbelief the further we get.
In backtracking to John 6:1, we recognize that He left Jerusalem sequentially after healing the man on the Sabbath and responding to those up in arms over His “breaking” of the Sabbath in John 5. The synoptic Gospels can throw us off sometimes if we don’t harmonize the various texts, so the best passage to show a further parallel would be in Mathew 14:1-17 that will lead right into the five loaves and two fish:
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”
Matthew 14:13 says that when Jesus heard about His cousin John the Baptist, whom He loved very much and thought very highly of, He left by boat to go to a deserted place. Why did He get away? Most likely it was grief. Nevertheless, with the crowd following Him, He didn’t turn inward but saw them and felt compassion. Food for thought: a heavy heart may rebound best by serving others. Often the inclination we feel most in heartache is to isolate, but it is in loving others and serving their needs that we may find medicine for our souls.
“Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.” In Matthew 14:14, it says that He “healed their sick.” Whether it was the advantage drawn from His miracles or watching those miracles happen, Jesus had a big calling card that more and more people became aware of over the course of His ministry years. Given the benefit of His works, it is more likely the former (being healed or having a loved one healed) that drew them to Him. Let me say once again in the midst of reflecting upon this passage that His grief over John the Baptist may have been part of the reason for His incredible generosity on this particular day. Despite His pain, He saw people and felt compassion for their needs.
“Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.” Passover is highlighted at least three different times in the Gospel of John for three different occasions (2:13, 6:4, 11:55). It is of great interest that Jesus felt compelled to feed the people who came to Him; it’s one thing for Him to heal their sick, but another that He would desire to feed them.
“Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” The BDAG Greek lexicon defines “testing” as used here in this way: “to endeavor to discover the nature or character of something by testing” (Bibleworks). Vv. 7-9 go on to say, “Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” The nature of this event is multifaceted: compassion for the crowd, generosity, testing of the disciples’ faith, and a proving of the hearts of the crowd at large later on.
“Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.” Most of us are familiar with this part of the passage, as it is typically the children’s story book portion of John 6:1-15. I would draw our attention to “as much as they wanted.” Every person had as much as they wanted of the bread and fish and the source of their fulfillment was not food, but the Distributor of the food that made it turn into more than enough. The disciples most likely were as astonished in handing out the food as the people receiving it. Much like the Samaritan woman’s story in John 4, Jesus showed Himself again as the Fulfillment of need, the Bread of Life. What the people needed was Him, not simply the food or the healings.
Verses 12 and 13 show that He didn’t just give enough; He gave in abundance of need, far beyond what they needed but in accordance with His desire. “So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’ Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.” There would be no mistaking that this was a miracle when everyone ate to their desire and there were twelve basketfuls left over. God Himself gives to each of us not necessarily in accordance with our felt wants or even our perceived needs, but in correlation to His desire to bless. He can bless as He sees fit and He is never wrong for the gifts He gives, though they may vary from person to person. Every gift also has a way of affecting the recipient, whether it’s postponed, given in small amounts, comes differently than how we would have seen it, or comes in mighty abundance. Gifts in part should be understood by the outcome they produce in the recipient and the glory they give to God.
“Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” What do we do with the gifts of God? Many people interpret the reasoning for God giving them something, or begin to foster a heart of entitlement rather than gratitude. If we got everything we wanted, we would abuse our relationship with God and we’d only keep Him close for the benefits. When this group concluded Jesus was the Prophet, the Messiah, they immediately wanted to bring to pass something that was not in God’s timing. Jesus wasn’t ready to be made King; He was simply ready to show compassion, and He did. Sadly, rather than recognize Him as Messiah and seek submission to Him, they intended to take Him by force to make Him king. He didn’t need people to take Him by force to make Him king; He would do that Himself.
We need Jesus, period. The gifts He gives, the healing He provides to our brokenness, the comfort and hope He supplies are all wonderful blessings, but nothing can top having access to Him. The Gospel of John repeatedly makes it clear that Jesus is always the Source of everything we could ever need. Don’t get sidetracked with desire for blessings so much that you lose sight of the Savior.
Prayer from Pastor Sam:
Father, give us compassion for others in their burdens. Help us never to negate their need of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ in our care for them. Grant strength to those who are tending to the needs of others today. Move many people to cry out to You today for mercy and to find You in Your word. Give us a passion for Your glory again today I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.