This past week, our sanctuary did not look like the typical church setting you might expect. We just finished an amazing week of Vacation Bible School, using Mt. Everest as a backdrop. The theme for the week was “Conquering Challenges with God’s Mighty Power.” And what the kids learned – at least what I hope they learned – is that God has the power to provide, heal, comfort, forgive, and love us forever.
Today’s Gospel reading certainly demonstrates God’s power to provide. Most people know this episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples. It is the only one of the many miracles performed by Jesus that is in all four of the Gospels. We call it the Feeding of the 5000 – and since the 5000 number refers to the number of men who were there, it is a safe bet to say that perhaps as many as another 5000 or more women and children were also present. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of hungry mouths to feed!
Philip is standing there, watching as this huge crowd is coming to them. I’m not sure what he was thinking when he saw all those people, but I’ll bet he was in awe, because he knew that they were coming to see Jesus.
Jesus sees the crowd coming too, perhaps watching over Philip’s shoulder. And he asks him, “Philip, is there some place nearby where we can buy bread for these people to eat?”
Now Philip is a realist. He also is something of a mathematician. He does a quick estimate in his head, and says, “Six months wages would not be enough to feed everyone even a little.” But we are let in on a little secret. Jesus is testing and maybe even teasing Philip a bit here. Jesus already knows what he’s going to do, even before the five loaves of bread and two fish are given to him.
As it happens, some little boy has the bread and fish in a sack that his mother must have packed for him that morning. Most of you know what happens next. Jesus takes that bread – and he takes that fish – blesses it – and has the disciples distribute it among the people in the crowd – and everyone has enough to eat. AND there is enough left over to fill twelve baskets – one basket for each of the disciples to bring back to Jesus.
The question is, how did Jesus do this? How did he do it? There are two very different explanations for this miracle. The first is that Jesus did what only Jesus can do. Since Jesus is God – he has the power of God – and he shows that God has the power to provide. Jesus takes what is placed into his hands and multiplies it – for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.
The second explanation is that when the people saw that Jesus was given the five loaves and two fish – those who had food with them got the idea – reached into their own sacks and shared what they had. I’ve got to tell you I’m tired of hearing preachers tell the story like that. What they are doing is turning the power of Jesus Christ to do what only Jesus can do – in other words – perform a true miracle – and turning it into a Sunday School lesson about sharing.
Now we all know that sharing is a good thing. We all agree with that. But there is no miracle in sharing. Well – maybe for some people it would be a miracle if they learned to share. The only person who shared any food that day was the young boy who gave up his lunch. And if there is a message in that act of selflessness it is that when we take what’s in our hands – and place what we have into Christ’s hands – then all we need to do from there is to stand back and just watch what God can do.
SO yes, the feeding of the five thousand is a miracle that demonstrates God’s power to provide. But the miracle itself is not the message. The result of the miracle leads the people to realize that there is something different – something special about this man Jesus. Verse 14 says that when the people saw the sign that Jesus had done – they said, “This is the prophet – in other words, the Messiah – who is to come into the world.”
Let me tell you something about John’s Gospel and the miracles that John records for us. There are seven in all. John calls them signs – sign to point us to who Jesus is.
1. Jesus turns water into wine.
2. Jesus heals a Roman official’s son.
3. Jesus heals a man at the Pool of Bethesda.
4. The feeding of the 5,000.
5. Jesus walks on water.
6. Jesus heals a man born blind.
7. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
These are the seven miracles John records. Seven signs to point us to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah – the Christ – the anointed One sent from God.
So today’s sign or miracle – the feeding of the 5,000 – is certainly visible to many. And it is spectacular. Thousands of people witnessed it. In fact, they’re so overwhelmed that they want to make Jesus their king.
And this, I think, is why this is more than just a Sunday School lesson about sharing. To get the crowd to share whatever food they had brought with them that day is not going to leave them excited enough to want to make Jesus their king. No. This is a true miracle. A true sign to show the people not only what Jesus can do – but also – who he is.
Somehow – someway – Jesus multiplied those loaves and fish. Somehow – someway – Jesus turned water into wine – healed the sick – walked on water – made the blind to see – and raised Lazarus from the dead. That’s the power of God in action!
John tells us about these things – and calls them signs so that we can know – so that we can believe – that Jesus is the Christ – the Son of God – and that believing we might have life in his name.
John lets us know that this is his one purpose in writing his gospel – that we might come to believe. At the very end of his gospel John says that many other signs were done which he did not write down. But in chapter 20 verse 31 he tells us his purpose. “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.”
What a wonderful message! But let me tell you, that this miracle – this sign – of the feeding of the 5,000 – and all of the miracles of Jesus do more than show us the power of God in action. They do more than let us know who he is. It also shows us the compassionate love of our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ. Jesus saw the people and their need and he felt compassion toward them. And for us who have heard the Word – and have come to believe that Jesus is the Christ – the Son of God – there is a call for us as disciples of Jesus Christ – to show that same compassion. Since becoming more like Christ is the goal of the believer in Christ – then showing compassion certainly is part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Let me share with you a story. Since our Vacation Bible School theme, “Conquering Challenges with God’s Mighty Power,” used Mt. Everest as a backdrop, I thought the following story would be helpful.
Mike Barrett, in his book, The Danger Habit, tells how difficult it is for highly competitive people to be compassionate. He tells about men who tried to climb Mount Everest in 2006 and some of the choices they were forced to make. He tells about a fifty year old climber, Lincoln Hall, who was left for dead by his team, and other passing climbers, on the side of that treacherous mountain. But a small team led by Dan Mazur of the U.S. stopped to help Lincoln down the mountain. In the process they saved his life but they gave up their own opportunity to make it up Everest.
Weeks later, the guide who led the rescue told The Today Show, “We just immediately sprang into action. You have to move quickly up there. If you mess around and start thinking about what to do, he could already be gone.”
But this story of heroism and self sacrifice contrasted with another less heroic story that took place only days earlier on the same mountain. Thirty four year old David Sharp died after forty climbers passed him and refused to help. Think of that. One climber is left for dead, but is rescued and lives. Another is left alone to die . . . and dies. David Sharp was left to die so that other climbers could complete their ascent.
Maybe it’s easy to understand the motivation of those who passed by. Maybe not. They had invested many years of hope and dreams as well as thousands of dollars in their bid to climb Everest. And nothing was going to stop them. Do they throw away all that they had hoped for – dreamed for – paid thousands of dollars for – to throw all that away to help a person who might not survive anyway? They do if they are a follower of Jesus.
As disciples of Jesus Christ – we learn not only who he is – but what it means to be a disciple. To love as Jesus loved. To forgive as Jesus forgives. To show compassion as he is compassionate. To become more and more like Christ every day.
So I hope you learned something about Jesus today. Maybe you’re hearing it for the first time, or maybe it’s a good refresher. The writers of all four gospels – not just John – but Matthew, Mark and Luke as well – want us to know who Jesus is – and then invite us to become more like him.
So – who is Jesus? He is the Christ, the messiah, the Son of God. The things that the gospel writers wrote about him were written so that we might believe – and in believing – we might have life in his name. Amen