(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 13, 2000
Little is Much With God
One of the many things in the Bible that should not amaze me, yet constantly does, is how much the characters written about are so much like me. That should not amaze me because the Bible speaks about ordinary people doing ordinary things, yet I still have it in the back of my mind for some strange reason that the people mentioned in the Scriptures were some how special. Maybe it is a hidden desire to excuse myself when I do not live up to the example they have set, or a means by which my pride can be puffed up when I do better than they did. This morning we are going to see an example of the disciples of Jesus acting just like we would, and we will see God’s graciousness in dealing with them.
Turn to John 6.
John 6:1 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias).
The "after these things" jumps us about a year ahead in time to April A.D. 29. It also moves us from Jerusalem back to Galilee. John expects that the reader is familiar with the synoptic accounts of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. John does not speak of this time of Jesus’ ministry except for the opening miracle in that ministry (John 4) and this last miracle during that time period.
John gives the alternate name for the Sea of Galilee as Sea of Tiberias since that would have been more familiar name to the people in Asia Minor to whom he was writing.
Jesus had been on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and now He travels by boat to a place on the Eastern shore, which Luke comments is Bethsaida (House of fish). This is Bethsaida Julias which was located just south-east of where the Jordan River flows into the Sea of Galilee.
The reason for Jesus’ going there seems to be multi-faceted. Mark and Luke comment that the disciples had just returned from their preaching tour, and Jesus invites them to "come away" with Him to a "lonely place and rest a while" (Mark 6:12,13, 30-31; Luke 9:6,10-11) . In addition, the disciples of John the Baptist had just reported to Jesus that Herod had killed John (Mt. 14:12,13). Jesus’ withdrawal would allow His disciples time to rest and for Him to minister to them in private, and it would delay a confrontation with either Herod or the Pharisees until the proper time.
As much as Jesus wanted to be in a lonely place for these purposes, the people would not leave Him alone that easily. John 6:2 tells us, And a great multitude was following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.
As the people see what Jesus departing by boat, they start following Him on the shore. The trip is about 5 miles by boat and 6 or 7 miles by foot. As they go they would have attracted the attention of those in the cities they passed through which would have prompted even more to join in. They would also have attracted the attention of many of the pilgrims going to Jerusalem for the coming Passover, as verse 4 tells us. John is very direct about the reason for all these people following Jesus. They were seeing the signs Jesus was performing on those who were sick. They were attracted by Jesus’ miracles. Certainly there were those that wanted to be healed from their sicknesses, but there were also those who were following just to see the miracles being performed.
The area where Jesus landed was remote to begin with, but His destination was a mountain which was even more isolated where He and His disciples could have privacy. John 6:3 says, And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. Matthew 14:14 tells us, And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick." Some of those who were following along the shore even beat Jesus’ boat to its landing point and were waiting there when He came ashore.
Jesus had traveled to this lonely place to get away from the crowds, yet now we find many people assembled around Him again. How would you have felt? You were tired, you had been dealing with people and their problems for a long time already, your followers had just returned from the assignment you sent them on and they needed some attention, and you were looking forward to some relative peace and quiet. You get in a boat and sail away trying to get away from the crowds, yet when you reach your destination a crowd is already there and more are coming. Would you be frustrated? Maybe even a little bit angry? Do you think you would have felt justified in telling the people to go away and come back another time? Probably, but that is not what we see in Jesus.
Jesus "felt compassion for them." He was emotionally moved to be merciful to them. Mark 6 and Luke 9 tell us that Jesus’ mercy and compassion also exhibited itself in teaching them many things about the Kingdom of God. Compassion and mercy are qualities that we should have too, and we will gain them as we walk with the Lord.
God is not some impersonal force out there that is indifferent to the things we go through. Jesus is God. He told His followers that if they have seen Him, then they "have seen the Father," and Jesus is not cold and calculating or remote from the suffering of mankind. Here we find another occasion when Jesus would have had every right to tell the people to give Him a break and leave Him alone. But Jesus is deeply moved over the physical suffering, the confusion, the spiritually wayward state of the people. Jesus understood the physical and emotional pain of rejection and the full measure of human temptation for He was "tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin" – Heb. 4:15. That is why He is a sympathetic High Priest. Jesus knows what we are feeling. Jesus has compassion on the multitudes even to though many were shallow, self-centered thrill seekers whom He knew would reject Him only a short time later.
Jesus extended mercy to the many then and He continues to do so now. Regardless of what state or situation you may find yourself in today, Jesus is able and willing to extend mercy to you if you will receive it. You can bring your troubles to Him and you will find sympathy, compassion and a love so strong that it will not let you stay in the sin which is bringing turmoil to your life.
TESTING THE DISCIPLES
In verses 5-9 we find that Jesus puts a test to His disciples. They had seen Jesus perform many miracles already. Even though John’s gospel account skips a year of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, he has mentioned the turning water into wine (John 2), signs done during the first Passover (John 2:23) that convinced Nicodemus that Jesus was from God (John 3:2); the healing of the nobleman’s child (John 4) and the healing of the man at Bethesda who had been sick for 38 years. Each of these miracles pointed to the fact that Jesus was God in human flesh and could be trusted to be compassionate and provide for those in need. How would the disciples respond to the situation that was now before them.
John 6:5 (NASB) Jesus therefore lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?" 6 And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. 7 Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little." 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?"
Jesus sees the large number of people and then asks Philip what should be done to feed them. This is a very practical question, but one designed to see what Philip and the other disciples would do in response. Verse 6 very specifically states that Jesus asked the question to test Philip, and with him the other disciples too. Jesus already knew what He was going to do.
The question is a practical one because they are in a remote location. Matthew, Mark and Luke all indicate that it was getting toward evening. They also state that the disciples were urging Jesus to send the people away so that they could go out into the surrounding countryside and village and buy something to eat for themselves. Instead Jesus told them that they did not need to go away and that the disciples should give them something to eat. It is probably at this point that Jesus asks His question of Philip. "Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?"
There is no indication in the text as to why Jesus asked Philip as opposed to any of the other disciples. What we do have is Philip’s quick assessment and conclusion that even 200 denarii could not but enough food for everyone to have even just a little food. A denarius was the amount of money a common worker would receive for a day’s wages. Two hundred days worth of wages would not be sufficient. From the other gospel accounts we know that Jesus asked the disciples what they did have. It is at this point that Andrew brings in a child who has five barley loaves and two small fish. These are not big loaves of bread like we think of them, but more like very large rolls. And the particular fish mentioned were most likely the small Tilapia now called "St. Peter’s fish," which is the size of a lake perch. These would be salted and dried or pickled. This is not much food and Andrew points that out –but what are these for so many people? His assessment, like Philip’s, is that this is an impossible task. The disciples had neither the ability to buy enough food nor provide enough food from their own resources to meet the needs of the multitudes.
THE MIRACULOUS PROVISION
The needs were beyond the ability of human resources to provide, but as verses 10-13 point out, they were not impossible for Jesus.
John 6:10 (NASB) Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.
The disciples did not have a means to provide for the many people there, but Jesus was present and did have a way to provide. He tells the people to sit down in organized groups of 50 and 100. This would have aided the distribution of the food. That must have been quite a site as they sat there in multicolored splashes of color against the backdrop of the lush green grass that grows there in the early spring and the azure sky above. Then Jesus took the bread and the fish and gave thanks for the food that God had provided. Then Jesus broke the bread and divided it among the disciples to distribute to the multitudes. Nothing in the text specifically indicates when the bread and fish multiplied or how it did so. There was no fanfare, there was no majestic public display, but quietly and perhaps imperceptibly the food multiplied with the magnitude of the miracle being attested to by the many people who ate and were satisfied. Please note that our text says that people ate of the bread and the fish "as much as they wanted." They were not given some small set amount designed to stretch the little bit of food as far as possible. The food was not rationed out. The baskets were passed among the people and they took whatever they wanted. Having observed how people behave when there is free food, I think the people ate pretty heartily.
While we do not know the manner in which the food miraculously multiplied, my own thoughts on this is that it occurred much in the same way as similar miracles in the Old Testament. The widow woman of Zarepheth had a jar of flour and jar of oil that never ran out for a whole year though there was little in them (1 Kings 17:10). There is also the case of the multiplied oil of the prophets widow when Elisha had her continue to pour oil from one container and fill up a room full of vessels. The oil multiplied even as she poured it out. I believe the same occurred here with the food multiplying in the baskets even as it was being distributed. Again, this is my own speculation, but the picture in my mind is that as Jesus broke the bread and divided up the fish in the twelve baskets to begin with, as He did so there was more bread and fish that replaced it. As the baskets were being passed around, a person would reach in the basket and take out bread until they had all they wanted, and as they took it out of the basket more bread and fish immediately replaced what was taken out.
Jesus performed a miracle of multiplication of food. Five small loaves of barley bread and two small fish multiplied to feed and satisfy well over 5,000 people. Matthew 14:21 states there were "about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children." The number of people fed could have been upwards of 15,000. The bounty of the food provided is proved in the amount of leftovers that were gathered.
12 And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost." 13 "And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten."
Don’t read "fragments" (klasmata/klasmata) here to mean small crumbs, but rather pieces of bread and fish that had been broken off that had not been eaten. These were the leftovers from those who had taken more than they could eat. That is a reason I think the people ate heartily. The disciples gathered up 12 baskets of these fragments. These would have been the small to medium size baskets people would have taken with them when traveling.
There is an important lesson here. An infinite resource is not an excuse for waste. God provides with abundance and we may freely take and use all that we want, but He does not condone waste. This is the balance between being stingy or excessive. Rejoice and be glad in the blessings the Lord bestows upon you, but do not squander or waste those blessings. Consider that the reason you may have an abundance is for the very purpose of sharing with those who are in need. Even here, the leftovers would have provided for the Lord and the disciples needs that day and the next.
The people understood the significance of the miracle. Verse 14 – When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world." The miracle was plain to see and because of it they recognized that Jesus was the Prophet spoken of in Deut. 18. They problem was that they did not understand the ministry that the Prophet would bring. They only thought of Him in terms of political power and a restoration of Israel to its former glory. We will see this more clearly in the coming weeks, but in verse 15 we find that intend to act upon their believes.
John 6:15 (NASB) Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. Jesus did not acquiesce to such intentions and from the other gospel accounts we learn that Jesus immediately sent His disciples back across the Sea of Galilee in the boat and dismissed the crowds. He then withdrew into the mountain to be alone. Jesus was never overwhelmed by the events that surrounded Him nor did He ever lose control to them. He remained in control of the what He would do and when He would do it.
MEDITATING ON THE MEANING
But what does all this mean to us? The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000+ is obviously a very important miracle since it is the only one repeated in all four gospel accounts.
We find in Jesus’ departure from Capernaum that there is a time and place to remove ourselves from danger. We do not act from fear, but from wisdom to continue our service to God. We also found in this example that it is good to seek to spend time alone in a quiet place to be refreshed.
Jesus’ demonstration of compassion is also a model for us. Life is not about our convenience, but about serving the Lord. Ministering to others is not always convenient, yet, as we see people through God’s love we reach out sacrificially to meet their needs. But we also must remember that true ministry necessarily involves telling them about God. We should help meet the physical needs of others, but our real purpose is to reach out and meet their spiritual need.
We also find that God’s timing does not have to match our plans, but there is a blessing in yielding to Him. Remember that Jesus and the disciples had set out originally to spend some time alone. Jesus was going to give them further instruction. Jesus does just that with the lesson being prompted by the circumstances at hand. A good reminder to us parents that it is often in the unforseen circumstances that we can teach our children some of their greatest lessons about God and how to live for Him. Are you ready to teach your children in any and every circumstance?
Another lesson here is that we need not question the wisdom of God asking us to obey Him. It is enough for us to know of His love for us and that He will enable us to do whatever He asks.
The task that Jesus charged his disciples with was impossible for them, but that was just the point being made. They would be sent out to do what was impossible by every reasonable means of human endeavor, but Jesus can do what is humanly impossible and the disciples were to look to Him – just as we are today.
Often we find that we are God gives us responsibilities that seem impossible. Being a parent is one of them. How can a mother or a father, both of whom are imperfect, carry out the responsibility of rasing godly children? Children do imitate what they see in their parents, and that alone should strike fear in a parent’s heart. Then there is the task of dealing with the child’s own sin nature. The task is impossible for us alone, but we must be faithful to the task and rely on God to provide what we can not.
The same is true in living for Christ. I can not live and witness for Him in my own power. I can not fight sin in my own power. That is impossible for me to do and at times I feel that so strongly my emotions seem to be crying out that I must sin in order to find relief from the sheer tension of it all. How then can a person live in holiness when he or she finds themselves in a body of sin that seeks for itself pleasure, power and prestige? I must rely on the promises of God and not my own power. I must simply seek to be faithful and rely on Him to do the rest.
When a temptation that seems beyond my limits of resistance is upon me, I must remember that God said He would not allow that, but would provide a way through it or around it. My part is to be faithful to His commands and then see how He delivers. Say no to cheating on a test. Your future is in God’s hands and God will put you where He wants you regardless of any test score. Say no to tax fraud. God will provide for those who seek His kingdom and His righteousness first. We are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (and to Bill what is Bill’s and to Jane what is Jane’s) and to God what is God’s. Flee sexual involvement with anyone other than your spouse. The few moments of stolen pleasure and emotional intimacy are negligible compared to the tragedy it brings. God can sustain you as a single or even in an unfulfilling marriage.
Say "yes" to a righteous response even when others make fun of you for doing so. Your living with eternity in mind. Say "yes" to proclaiming the Word of God even when others may hate you for it. We are more concerned about pleasing God than pleasing men. Say "yes" to serving others even when it requires sacrifice on your part. Our purpose for living is to serve God and others for Him, not ourselves. God will provide for us when our priority is to serve Him and strive to be holy.
The apostles were just like us. All they could see in front of them was an impossible task even though the one who could do the impossible was right there with them. It is not recorded that they asked Jesus for help. All they said was that they could not do it. They did not have enough, so why try? They were defeated before they started.
Have you ever felt that way? The task was beyond you so why even try? Remember that God does not require success from us, only faithfulness in following His commands. It is God Himself that works out the end result. Jesus told them to give to the multitudes to eat and they should have started serving what they had or at least come to Jesus and asked if He knew of where any other food might be or for more specifics on how they were to serve what they had.
The apostles – and we – are not to be mindless servants of God who act without thinking, but we are to have the faith of a child that fully expects his father to provide. My children are still young and often do not understand the reason I tell them to do certain things, but they do trust me that if I tell them to do something that it is best for them and that they will be able to accomplish it or I will be there to help them. The same is true in our relationship with God. It is not a matter of our understanding why He wants us to do something, but a matter of trusting Him that it is best for us and that we will be able to do it and/or He will be there to help us. Little is much with God.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the name "Jesus" is said. 2) Discuss with your parents the what God can do through you though you are still young.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the difference in time and place from John 5:47 and John 6:1? Why does Jesus travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee? What lesson(s) can you learn from this and apply to your own life? Where does Jesus go? What did He find when He got there? What was His response? How would you have responded? How should you respond to "inconvenient" situations now? What was the "test" that Jesus gave to Phillip? Did he pass or fail? Have you passed for failed similar tests in your own life? What was the conclusion of the disciples to Jesus’ request of them? What did Jesus do in response? How many people were fed by how much food? How much food did each person get? How much was left over? Why did Jesus want the fragments picked up? How can you apply that lesson/example in your own life? What did the people believe and want to do in response to this miracle? Why did Jesus thwart their effort? How can God use your "little" and make it into "much." What "impossible" situations to do you face? What does God want you to do in response to them?
Sermon Notes – 2/13/2000 a.m.
Little is Much with God – John 6:1-15
THE SETTING (1-4)
Parallel passages: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:33-44; Luke 9:12-17
TESTING THE DISCIPLES (5-9)
THE MIRACULOUS PROVISION (10-13)
THE PEOPLE’S RESPONSE (14,15)
MEDITATING ON THE MEANING
For comments, please e-mail Church office