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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2008-02-24

Text: John 6:1-15

The title of our sermon is 'the Supernatural Supper.' This title refers to the miracle of our Lord Jesus, in which He fed more than 5,000 people with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fishes. If you are wondering why the sermon title refers to this meal as a supper, it is because a 'supper' is defined as an evening meal, and the account of the same miracle found in the other Gospels tell us that it was already evening when this meal took place (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:35 'when the day was far spent.'). 

It turned out to be the most memorable supper for all who were present. It wasn't merely for the purpose of filling their hungry stomachs. It was truly a miraculous meal which was meant to reveal the real identity of their host to them. It was meant to teach them that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews and the special Prophet through whom God would reveal Himself to the world.

I. The Purpose of the Supper (vv.1-4,14)

This purpose was achieved in the end. Look at v.14 'Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.' Who was this prophet? He is the one that was foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 'The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, [Moses] and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.'

In this passage Moses foretold the advent of a special prophet that God would raise up from Israel to reveal His Word to them. Now, after the time of Moses, there had been many other prophets sent by God, e.g. Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah and Micah. 

Even John the Baptist was known to be a prophet (and at the time of the miracle in our text, he had just been beheaded by King Herod). But while these prophets were all great in their own right, none of them had ever been recognized as the fulfillment of the prophecy given in Deuteronomy 18. Why? Because none of them had important qualification that this special prophet must have ' he has to be like Moses. Did Christ has this important qualification? Yes, He did.

In His miracle of feeding the 5,000, there were several points that would have made the crowd recognise His close resemblance to Moses. The first point was the location of the miracle - according to v.3 'Jesus went up into a mountain.' This was exactly what Moses had done ' he climbed up Mount Sinai and there he received the Law of God in the form of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:20) and gave them to the Israelites who were gathered at the foot of the mount. Jesus likewise went up into a mount and when the crowd gathered, He taught them with divine authority. Moreover the 12 disciples who sat with Jesus on that mount would correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel that had been present with Moses at Mount Sinai.

The second point was the time when this miracle took place ' according to v.4 of our text, 'the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.' Who implemented the Passover? It was Moses. You may remember that the Passover was instituted by God through Moses on the night before the Israelites left Egypt. It remains the most important annual feast of the Jews to this day. Now, there were some interesting ways in which the meal that Jesus hosted for the 5,000 men resembled a Passover meal. The Jews always have their Passover meal in the evening, and the family would sit together at the dining table. The head of the home would lead them through a prescribed order of service, which included thanksgiving, the reading of portions of scripture and singing. At a certain point in the meal, he would break a piece of unleavened bread and distribute the broken pieces to everyone at the table.

Now, what Jesus did at the mount ' making everyone sit down (v.10), giving thanks for the meal and distributing the bread to them (v.11) - all this reminded them of the Passover and of Moses who had first implemented it for Israel. This in would have helped the crowd to realize that Jesus was the prophet like unto Moses.

The third and most convincing point of all that did this was the way in which the food was provided for the multitudes ' it was by a miracle. When Moses led the Israelites in the wilderness he had a huge logistic problem. Where would He find sufficient food to feed such a huge number of people in the wilderness? 

The answer came in the form of a supernatural food called manna which miraculously appeared on the ground in great abundance every morning. This bread from heaven filled the stomachs of about 2 million Israelites every single day for about 40 years! And now that Jesus provided food to fill the stomachs of 5,000 Israelites with a miracle, His close resemblance to Moses was unmistakeable.

Thus we have seen how the supernatural supper that the multitudes enjoyed from the hand of Jesus convinced them all that He is none other than that great prophet like unto Moses, who would one day come into the world. Now, all the details of this miracle have been carefully recorded in the Bible to convince many more of the same truth - that Jesus is truly that Prophet who was foretold in Deuteronomy 18, the One that the whole world must now listen to carefully, because He is none other than God's anointed revealer of truth to the world. This is stated so well in Hebrews 1:1-2 'God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.'

Dearly beloved, please consider what this truth should mean to you. Since Jesus is God's anointed revealer of truth, have you made Him your only source of truth and knowledge? Do you listen to Him and obey Him? There are many different voices in the world today and all of them clamour to be heard, and claim to lead people to the right knowledge. There is the voice of philosophy that advocates human reasoning alone. There is the voice of the New Age Movement which advocates transcendental meditation to realize that you are God. There are the voices of many cults - Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Scientology, etc. Which of them should you listen to? The answer was provided by God the Father on the mount of transfiguration 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.' (John 17:5). There is no way that anyone can know God accurately and personally except through His Son, Jesus Christ!

Now, the supernatural supper that the 5,000 men had, not only revealed that Jesus was that Prophet that should come into the world. It was also displayed how good He is. The meal was a beautiful demonstration that Jesus is truly the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep (John 10:14). You ask how this is so. Firstly, it is seen in His desire to feed the great multitude. He knew that they were very tired and hungry by now. Verse 1 tells us that Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee. He and His disciples took a ship across the northern part of the lake. 

But according to verse 2 a great multitude followed Him because they had seen the miracles He had done. Now, how did that group of 5,000 people follow Him if they had no ships to sail in? The answer is found in the parallel account of Matthew 14:13 which tells us that when Jesus departed from Capernaum by ship, the people followed Him on foot. Since they can't possibly walk across the sea, they ran along the northern shore of the sea, and crossed the River Jordan to get to the place where the ship of Jesus landed. This means that they traveled a distance of about 4-5 km on foot. 

As our Lord Jesus saw these weary people coming towards Him, His heart was filled with compassion for them, and He wanted them to be refreshed with food. And this led Him to perform the great miracle. The good shepherd made His flock lie down in green pastures (v.10) and He served them a nourishing meal of bread and fish. That meal was exactly what those tired and hungry multitudes needed after their long journey on foot. Dearly beloved, do you know that this same Jesus who fed the tired and hungry multitudes that day knows all your needs? His heart is filled with compassion when you come to Him, hungry and in dire need of physical and spiritual refreshment. His loving eyes can see how tired and weak you are. His loving heart can feel how despondent you are, and He longs to strengthen you and support you with His abundant supply of grace! If you came for worship this morning with a heart that is weary and troubled with the cares of life, let your soul be refreshed by your Good Shepherd. Commit all your cares to Him.

And after you have experienced the goodness of your Good Shepherd, you will surely testify, like King David 'My cup runneth over.' (Psalm 23:5) Whatever the Lord gives to you is never insufficient. His goodness ensures that His supply is more than enough for your needs. As a child of God you are therefore the most blessed creature in the whole universe, because you have a Good Shepherd who watches over you day and night, who is mindful of your needs, and who keeps giving and giving until your cup overflows. Just look at the abundance of bread and fishes that the multitudes enjoyed when Jesus fed them. Verse 12 tells us that they were all filled - they ate and ate until they were fully satisfied - and there were plenty of leftovers - enough to fill up twelve baskets. Their cup truly overflowed! 

Dearly beloved, let us never cease to thank our Lord for His overflowing goodness to us. If we have received so much from Him and experienced His great goodness without measure, surely the least we should do is to give thanks to Him. Whenever you wake up in the morning, do you thank Him for a good night's rest and for keeping you throughout the night? When you travel on the road and reach your destination without any mishap, do you thank Him for journeying mercies? Please don't take these blessings for granted. And whenever you sit down at the table for a meal, be sure to give thanks to Him. Saying grace at every meal should be done from the heart, and not merely as a habit or custom. And we must learn to do this from the example of Jesus Himself - v.11 tells us that when He took the loaves, Jesus gave thanks before distributing the food to the multitudes.

We who are parents should also set this example at home. Make it a point to say grace when you sit with your family at the dining table, and encourage your children to say grace at every meal. When your children learn to thank God for something as basic as the food they eat, they are more likely to be thankful to Him later on for every other manifestation of His goodness. 

And besides teaching your child to be thankful for everything he receives, teach him also to share his blessings with others. As Matthew 10:8 says 'Freely ye have received, freely give.' Since your cup overflows with blessings from the Lord, it is not good to hoard up and keep all the surplus blessings for yourself. Whatever overflows from your cup can be used of God to bring much joy and satisfaction to others. This is what one child who was among the multitudes discovered. He did not keep the five loaves and two fishes in his lunch box all to himself but he gave them to Jesus. And that was all that Jesus needed to feed the 5,000!

II. The Provision of the Supper (vv.9-13)

There is something interesting about this child, which is not brought out by the English translation of v.9 'There is a lad here.' The word 'lad' does not tell us much about this child. But the Greek word paidarion does. And that is the actual word that was used here. This word has a diminutive '-arion' ending, and it is better translated as a 'little boy.' We can also add that he was a poor little boy, because the barley loaves he had were the bread of the poorest classes in society. Those who were economically well ate loaves made from wheat, not barley.

And here is another interesting fact; The word 'lad' is not the only word in this verse that has this diminutive ending. The words 'small fishes' also carries the same ending. It is actually the Greek word opsarion. And this refers to the small sardine-like fishes that were commonly caught, dried and salted by people who lived around the Sea of Galilee. These were eaten more as a savoury tidbit to add flavour than to fill the stomach. Just as most of us hardly eat plain bread without butter, jam or kaya, the two small fishes were only meant to make the plain loaves taste a little better.

Now, the presence of these two diminutive nouns in one verse brings out the idea of insignificance. And this in turn accentuates the feeling of helplessness conveyed by the question at the end of verse 9 'But what are they among so many?' What can this poor little boy do? What can his five barley loaves and two tiny fishes do? In the eyes of the world they can do nothing. We might as well not have them at all.

Before the poor little boy offered his lunch to the disciples, Philip had already estimated how much would be needed to feed so many people. Look at what he said in v.7 'Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.' Now 200 penny worth is 8 months wages of a rural worker. And this is roughly about S$4,800. This was perhaps the amount that the 12 disciples had if they pooled all their funds together at that moment. And even this would not be enough to fill the stomachs of the multitude - just a small snack. Perhaps in Philip's mind what would really be nice was to have a rich philanthropist come forward to donate 2 or 3 times that amount for them to purchase bread in the nearby villages. 

But all they had was this insignificant little boy with nothing except for 5 pieces of bread and two small fishes. What are they among so many? Have you ever asked a question like this? Have you ever faced a situation where you felt so helpless because the responsibilities that you were assigned were simply too great for you to bear? You asked yourself - How can you attempt to do so much, when you have so little? The Church faces a similar situation - the Lord has commissioned us to bring the Gospel to a lost world of 6 billion people. He said that we should be His witnesses even unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). But when we look at ourselves and our resources, we see that we are just like that little boy with his 5 paltry loaves and 2 small fishes. How can we possibly do it?

A similar situation was faced by Zerubbabel, the leader of the Jews who returned from their captivity in 539 BC. When he started to rebuild the city of Jerusalem from its ruins and the Holy Temple which had been destroyed, he was very discouraged by the magnitude of the work, the scant resources he had and the huge obstacles he faced. He probably felt that his very best efforts were at best insignificant and futile. But God's Word came to him in Zechariah 4:10 'For who hath despised the day of small things?'

Dearly beloved, please do not despise the day of small things. The Lord can use and will use small insignificant things to bring glory unto Himself. Just let Him have full use of them and you will be amazed at the things He can do with them. This was what the little boy did. He gave to the Lord Jesus all that he had: his 5 barley loaves and 2 small fishes. And that was all that Jesus needed to feed the hungry multitudes! We can imagine how that little boy must have felt after everyone had eaten the bread and fishes he had given, and he himself had enjoyed a good meal with them. I don�t think he had any regrets at all about emptying his lunch box. And I don't think that boy had any doubts after that about what he would do if Jesus should ever have need of anything he had. He would definitely let Jesus have all of it.

How about you? What should you do with your possessions? What should you do with your time, your talents and your treasures? What should you do with your life? Give them all to Jesus. Let Him use them in whatever way He wants to use them. He may not use you to do something really extraordinary or impressive - to plant churches, to translate the Bible into an unknown language, or to write hymns that move hearts to tears. He may use you to do something very ordinary and insignificant - perhaps to be a doorkeeper in the house of God (Psalm 84:10), or to serve tables (Acts 6:2), or wash the feet of His disciples (John 13), or even to offer cups of cold water (Mark 9:41). But whatever the Lord uses you to accomplish with your life will bring the most significant results. As someone aptly put it: 'Only one life - twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last!'

A few short years after this miracle of feeding the 5,000, Christ used the lives of His 12 disciples to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). What were they in the eyes of the world? Just 12 ordinary men who came from the lower classes of society - a few of them were fishermen, and one was a former tax collector. But when their lives were yielded to Christ, He used them to change the entire course of history and to bring the life-giving message of salvation to countless souls. The legacy they left behind can never be fully fathomed. 

However, when you offer yourself for the Lord's use, you must also be prepared to bear the cost. It will cost you not just your comfort or convenience. We notice that the loaves and fishes first had to be broken to be of any use for feeding the 5,000. And the more they were broken, the more lives they blessed. This is a picture of the life of our Lord Jesus. It first had to be broken to yield up the fruits of our salvation. He had to suffer great personal loss and deprivation in order to minister to the multitudes all over Israel. He had to suffer persecution and derision from the authorities to bring the truth of God to sinners. And at the end, He had to suffer the most shameful humiliation and death on the cross to bring life to the world. The last verse of our text reveals that Jesus had chosen the cross instead of the crown.

IV. The Political Response to the Supper (v.15)

Verse 15 tells us, 'When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.' The people wanted to make Him their King by force. This was a terribly wrong response to the supernatural supper that they just had, because it was politically motivated response. They believed that if Jesus can feed all of them miraculously, then He should be their King. 

Do you know that there is a close relationship between food supply and political power? Recently inflation has caused food prices to soar to new heights globally. This is not because there is a worldwide shortage of food. The year 2007 actually saw a record grain harvest of 1.66 billion tons of cereals (wheat, barley, oats and rice). This means that there is actually enough food for every person in the world. And yet 852 million people today are suffering from chronic malnutrition and 30 million die from hunger each year. Why is this so? Some say the problem is the inefficient distribution of resources. Three-quarters of the world lives at subsistence level and only one-quarter lives at surplus level. The real reason is not an inefficient distribution of food, but rather, the sinful desire to gain wealth and power, and keep it. 

The crowds who wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him their king intended to use His miraculous power to gain political power. 

In their minds if only they had a King who could provide all the food they needed they can overthrow their Roman overlords and make Israel a powerful kingdom. But our Lord refused to be part of their political agenda. When Satan had tempted Him earlier on, offering Him all the kingdoms of the world by taking the easy way out, Jesus had flatly rejected his offer (Matthew 4:8-10). Why did Jesus reject Satan's offer? And why did He similarly refuse the crowds' efforts to make Him their King? Because He knew that His crown of glory must only be attained through the cross of shame. His life must first be broken on the cross, before His authority to rule on the throne can be established. 

And this is the path that that you and I must now choose, following the example of Christ - not the path of selfish gain for yourself, but the path of selfless giving of yourself. If you have been seeking Christ for selfish gain and for greater convenience for yourself, then you are just like the crowds in v.15 who would take Him by force and make Him their King. He will not allow Himself to be exploited by you to fulfill your own ambitions and purposes. Christ rather wants you to allow Him to use your life to fulfill His own purposes. He wants to be your King, but it must be on His own terms. You must deny self and accept your cross. You must submit to being broken like the bread and fishes and even reduced down to nothing. Only then can your life be used to accomplish His purposes of feeding the multitudes of this world with the Word of Life. Will you do this? Will you take up your cross daily and follow the Lord Jesus Christ?

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11