Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 31, 2020
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
— John 6:35-59, ESV
As we have progressed through this lengthy sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, the longest chapter in the fourth Gospel and fourth largest in all four Gospels, I have been hinting to you that the unfortunate ending will be unbelief on an unbelievable scale. After drawing His biggest crowd ever and miraculously feeding them all, after walking on water to get away from their earthly entanglements to make Him king, and after preaching to them again on the other side of the sea in Capernaum, everyone in this crowd of thousands will walk away from Jesus, except for twelve.
Here then, in this largest part of the long chapter, is an autopsy of unbelief. From the aftermath of the fourth and fifth of seven “signs,” to the giving of the gospel in the first of seven “I Am” statements, to this worldly crowd’s response, lies seven reasons why people do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Unbelievers do not believe because they have not been chosen by God.
In the Old Covenant, the people who believed in the true and living God were the chosen remnant from among the chosen people of Israel. God passed over all the other nations of the world and made people from one small nation His elect, His chosen people. Is God a racist, discriminating against all other races but the Jews? Is God unfair, denying equal access and opportunity to all people? No, God is Almighty, Sovereign, Omnipotent. He has the power and He has the right to pick the people He wants for Himself.
In the New Covenant, the people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are called the church, the bride of Christ. Does God not have the right to choose His own bride? Yes, He does and He does, through the ordo salutis of election, predestination, effectual calling, and regeneration (ref. Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:4; Titus 3:5, etc.). God chooses, members of the church are brought in and saved, and together with the redeemed of Israel will live with the Lord forever.
God is the Whosoever Who wills (ref. Romans 9:14-18). Mankind is the whosoever who won’t, apart from the grace of God. Grace by biblical definition is not a human right, not a human ability, not a human condition. Grace pours into people the faith to come to Jesus (vs. 37). Grace draws and enables people to follow Jesus (vs. 44). Grace is not given to everyone, or else it would not be grace.
The mystery of grace is great, especially since both God and man have certain freedoms. God uses His freedom to bring people into His kingdom. Man, on the other hand, uses his freedom to reject God, as exemplified by this crowd of unbelievers.
Unbelievers do not believe because they refuse to repent.
Believing and repenting go hand in hand, and the depraved man has neither in either hand. He refuses to believe and he refuses to repent. Saving faith is for only those who turn away from their sin and self-centeredness and come to Jesus (vs. 37). Unbelievers are unrepentant.
Faith is easy but repentance is hard. Faith can be faked but repentance must be real. Faith can be manipulated to make God do for you, but repentance reorients your life to where you give everything to God.
Repentance requires you to give up your pride, surrender your control, and place all your worldly goods in the hands of God. In this era of the modern gospel, people seem glad to superficially believe but reluctant to spiritually repent. But without repentance, Jesus said, people will perish in unbelief (ref. Luke 13:3,5).
Unbelievers do not believe because they cherish their will above God’s will.
Jesus, being God, was completely consumed with the will of God. Jesus, being fully human yet not bound by human sinfulness, was completely free to do His own will. It became clear by the time Jesus arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane that there was more than a mild conflict between the two wills of two persons of the Godhead, Father and Son. Yet what did the Son do?
The Son’s surrender to the will of the Father should be of supreme interest to us. It also should have supreme implications for us. Salvation, accomplished and applied, requires total submission to the will of God.
I did not say salvation requires total perfection with the will of God, for only Jesus Christ accomplished this perfect righteousness. But faith is accepting this righteousness, and faithfulness is the deep desire to do the will of God. True believers live in pursuit of the will of God. Unbelievers never will.
Unbelievers do not believe because they underestimate the end of time.
“The last day” is an expression in the New Testament used only in the Gospel of John. How many times? Why seven times, of course. It speaks of the second coming of Christ, when time as we now know it will be now more. It speaks of Judgment Day, when believers are collected with Christ and the wrath of God is poured out upon all unbelief.
Do you believe this day is coming? Believers do, and are prepared for it. Unbelievers, however, either do not care or have the wrong idea about the end of time.
Unbelievers live for the here and now. They are concerned with comforts and freedoms. They accumulate money and material goods. They either do not believe in Heaven or wrongly believe Heaven is a place where everybody goes in the end. Wrong belief is unbelief.
Unbelievers do not believe because they deny the deity of Christ.
People who don’t believe in Judgment Day are going to be really surprised when they see the Judge. He is Almighty God, the Creator, the Alpha and Omega, and He is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The people in Jesus’ day, although they had witnessed Him feed the five thousand and walk on water, did not believe in Him as Lord and God. They called Him “the son of Joseph,” but He is the Son of God.
People inside and outside the church make the same mistake today. Jesus is doubted and dismissed as merely a good man, a wise teacher, or a benevolent monk. Scholars in the name of Jesus blaspheme His holy name by teaching the Gospels are mythological accounts of an unlucky religious leader from ancient Palestine.
Jesus’ repeated claims and proofs of deity and lordship are eagerly believed by genuine Christians. Scoffers and doubters are unbelievers. A Jesus who is not Lord is a Jesus who cannot save.
Unbelievers do not believe because they ignore the Bible.
The Father and the Son are one, along with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired the Holy Scriptures, so those born of the Spirit are inspired to search the Scriptures regularly and hear and heed the word of God.
But most people are not interested in coming to Christ and learning the Bible. The Bible is the best selling and least studied book of all time. It is a treasure of salvation and assurance, of serious and joyful living, and a comfort in time of sorrow and death. Belief craves the Bible, the word of God. Unbelief does not have a healthy appetite for Holy Scripture.
Unbelievers do not believe because they do not understand the cross.
Christ’s last teaching to the crowd was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and kept him from passing through the eye of the needle into the kingdom of God. Jesus offered Himself to them as the broken bread and the slain lamb. People should have believed Him then, people should believe Him now, but somehow they just won’t.
While all of the Bible is literally true, all of the Bible is not to be taken literally. Excellent literature, especially from the eastern hemisphere, is rich in metaphor, parable, and symbolism, such as Jesus’ reference here to eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The Jews dropped the ball by thinking He was taking about cannibalism. The Roman Catholic Church confused the issue a thousand years ago by creating the false doctrine of transubstantiation. Jesus was plainly talking about the cross, then embarked on a one-year mission to get there.
Upon the cross of Calvary, the bread of life was nailed to a tree. The blood of the lamb of God flowed freely to the ground. Whoever believes in the reality of Jesus and the centrality of the gospel, “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (vs. 58). Faith saves, while unbelief is doomed to die.
The indictment against unbelief in this passage can be placed in reverse and serve as a roadmap to saving grace. Only God knows who the elect are, but you can know you are one of the chosen if you repent, desire God’s will, believe in Heaven, trust in Christ, honor His word, and come to Jesus through the cross. The whosoever will travel this narrow road, while the broad road of unbelief remains for whosever won’t.
THE BREAD OF LIFE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 17, 2020
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
— John 6:22-35, ESV
Jesus created a monster with a miracle, a five-thousand-headed food monster. With another miracle, walking on the water, He escaped from their plan to make Him their king by force in order to force the King to give them free food and other material things.
Now, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee with His disciples, Jesus faces the monster again. The only thing that could make them go away was the preaching of the gospel with an emphasis on the sovereign grace of God. This Jesus did, and by the end of the chapter, the monster is gone.
People still pursue Jesus for all the wrong reasons. They use Him as a good luck charm, a genie in a bottle, or a ticket to get out of Hell free. But God governs by providence, not luck. God did not become a man to grant everyone three wishes and their best life now. And, God will not spare anyone from Hell who does not come to Him on His terms.
The Search for the Bread of Life
Let’s try to give the crowd credit where credit is due. The text tells us they were “seeking Jesus” (vs. 24) and Jesus agreed, “You are seeking Me” (vs. 26). Surely seeking Jesus is a good thing, isn’t it?
Seeker sensitive churches started sprouting up a generation ago and now have a stronghold on church culture. The basic idea is to create services that lost people love (just think about that for a minute or two). In many cases, crosses and other Christian symbols are intentionally removed to not offend (just like in communist China?!). Language is censored to get rid of words like sin, repentance, and judgment (just read anything by the late Robert Schuller). Sacred psalms and hymns are replaced by loud rock bands, staged lighting, and sometimes even smoke machines (I actually like concerts, but not for Sunday worship). And, biblical sermons are replaced by moral therapeutic deistic pep talks (thank you, Christian Smith, Mark Noll, David Wells, and Wade Clark Roof). Such churches are often found full, as is the broad road leading to destruction (ref. Matthew 7:13).
It is impossible for lost people to seek salvation from the Lord (ref. Romans 3:11). This is because man in his natural state is depraved, spiritually disabled, sinful, and selfish to the core. What lost people will seek from the Lord, however, is anything that will entertain them, stroke their ego, or enrich their pantries or pocketbooks.
Jesus encountered such seekers on the road from Capernaum to Jerusalem. They did not come to Him as God, which is where His signs were pointing, but as a genie who could grant them wishes for bread. “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves'” (vs. 26).
The fact is they were seeking for something. But that something or someone was not God. They were solely focused on “food that perishes” (vs. 27), according to Jesus. Such food can mean real food and drink, of course, but bread can also represent money and material things. And most people, including many church people, are simply using the eternal God to get the earthly things they want most.
Are material things unimportant to God? No, or else Jesus would not have fed them earlier, and He will feed a four-thousand-headed monster later. But material things should not be the foundation and focus of our lives. Yet, money and material things are the bread that most people want from God.
Jesus shows us a better way, better bread, of which He is the exclusive source.
The Source of the Bread of Life
There are three ways to get bread. You can make it yourself. You can go to the store and buy a loaf of bread. Or, someone can give you bread.
There are also three ways to look at salvation. You can save yourself, by works or by being a perfect person (I witnessed our current President saying he never asks for forgiveness because he never does anything wrong). You can buy your salvation, like the Roman Catholic church was selling in Martin Luther’s day (which sparked the Great Reformation). Or, you can receive salvation as a gift of grace.
Jesus offers the latter. “My Father gives you the true bread … “ (vs. 32). He was not talking about something to eat, or money to buy things, but salvation. The Savior tended to talk about salvation, and The Savior saves. In order to freely offer salvation to those present and future, Jesus says and John records the first of His seven great “I Am” statements:
Jesus said to them, “I Am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (vs. 35).
This is the gospel in one sentence, one statement. It begins with God. It offers grace. It demands repentance and faith.
Jesus is the great “I Am,” which His original Jewish audience would have heard as, “I Am God.” Salvation cannot be earned, it cannot be bought. It must be received from God by receiving God in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The five-thousand-headed monster eagerly received the material bread which is here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus told them they needed eternal bread, they needed Him, as God and Savior. “The bread of life” received today will stay with you forever.
Who gets the bread of salvation? “Whoever comes to Me,” Jesus said. This is repentance. This is turning away from sin, selfishness, and self-control of you life and giving that life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is a gift from God (ref. Acts 11:18) that enables one to turn to God, or “Come to Me,” in Jesus’ words.
Why repent? Because you believe. “Whoever believes in Me,” Jesus said, will be saved. Faith is the gift of God that keeps on giving to God, and receiving from God spiritual gifts and the eternal blessing of salvation.
The source of salvation is the bread of life. You will die without food, and a piece of bread for a man starving to death is life, physical life. You will die in your sins and suffer an eternal death without the bread of life. Jesus Christ is the bread of life. We all need him more desperately than we need air, food, water, or anything else.
As we will see in the remainder of this chapter, the people Jesus fed with miraculous bread rejected the monumental offer of the bread of life. They wanted what Jesus could do for them, but they did not want Jesus. His offer of bread remains on the table.
Please, take it. It is soul food, salvation for your soul. If you already have it, you know it, and you want more, more of Jesus. If you do not have it, and you are not hungry for the Lord, then I can do no more for you than Jesus did for this selfish and spiritually dead crowd. But if you have a spiritual hunger, for forgiveness, for assurance of life after death, for a reorientation of life that truly puts the true and living God in the center, then pay attention, hold out your hands, and heart. The bread of life can be yours, today and forever.
NOTHING TO FEAR
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 10, 2020
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
— John 6:16-21, ESV
My middle name is Franklin, named after my father, who was named by his father, in 1941. Obviously, Pop was a big fan of the President at the time, and he was not alone. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (I’m glad my middle name is not Delano) is the only US President to be elected to serve not one, not two, not three, but four terms.
While historians and political philosophers argue over his legacy, there is no debate about his strong leadership and superlative oratorical skills. Everyone knows his most famous line from his first inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
The context behind the quote included a great depression at home and a brewing world war abroad. People were afraid, they were very afraid, and they had a right to be afraid. People are afraid today, of a new and dreadful virus, of the ensuing economic difficulties, of whatever China may do next.
Fear is a part of every generation, every life, even every Christian’s life. But is fear really to be feared? Could fear be a something good that leads us to something better?
In this episode in John’s Gospel, the fifth of the seven great signs is shown. Jesus walks on the water. The presence of God and the word of God puts the fear of God into followers of the Son of God, until faith in God takes over. Here is what they learned from the Lord, and here is what we can learn from them:
Fear is a Gift from God
“They were frightened” (vs. 19), those twelve disciples, in a small boat on a medium-sized lake surrounded by large mountains. The cut of those rocks could whip the wind upon the sea in such a way that waves raise up large enough to sink a boat. Added to their seafaring fears was their scared faces when they thought they saw a ghost, walking on the water towards them. They were very afraid, and fear does not feel good.
Fear feels bad, but is fear a bad thing? No, fear can be a good thing, even a healthy thing, that God has given to us for our good. There are many phobias (the Greek word for fear found in this text) that help protect us and guide us through life.
Fear is a sign of good sense. I have a bit of acrophobia, which helps keep my feet on the ground and my hands on the rail when I am in high places. I have a big case of ophidiophobia, which is why I never became one of those snake handling preachers. I, like many others, suffer from glossophobia, which is the fear of public speaking, which makes me prepare incessantly and pray unceasingly to deliver sermons. Fear makes us prepare and put up safeguards that are simply signs of good common sense.
Fear is a sign of godly respect. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (ref. Psalm 110:10; Proverbs 9:10). “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word” (ref. Isaiah 66:5). Healthy fear makes us listen to the right words from the right person for the right reasons, especially when that person is God and the source is God’s word, the Bible. The fear of God honors God and keeps us from committing sins that will do harm to others and ourselves.
Fear is sign for help. Fear can make you ask for help, especially from the Lord, who is always in the boat with you. Fear can make you place your hand on the rail, or take someone else’s hand, or put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.
Jesus’ disciples were afraid because Jesus had put them in the boat and sent them into the storm (ref. Matthew’s and Mark’s account). They had been in a similar storm before, but Jesus was in the boat with them. This time He was not, yet. They feared death, a healthy fear. They knew they needed Jesus to save them, a good spiritual observation. Then, Jesus showed up, and fear was conquered by faith.
Faith is a Gift from God
It was not a ghost, but God who came to the twelve in the boat. This fifth sign of John points once again to Jesus doing something that only God can do; therefore, Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ is Lord! Believe in Him! And they did, at least eleven of the twelve, as they brought Jesus into the boat and arrived safely at shore. Christ came into their lives once again, bringing faith in Christ with Him, and kindled it in His disciples.
Faith is a present from the Lord. Faith is primarily something God gives us to before we turn it back over to Him. Jesus will later reveal to His followers in John’s Gospel that they follow Him by the faith He first gives to them (ref. John 15:16). Paul wrote that faith is a gift from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8). Peter wrote that faith is a gift from God (ref. 2 Peter 1:1). James wrote that faith and every other good gift comes from God (ref. James 1:17). These are impeccable witnesses, so the case should be closed concerning the origin of faith.
Faith is the presence of the Lord. God is real, whether one believes in Him or not. But faith makes Jesus personal, in the boat, in your life. Faith is a humble, sometimes desperate, yielding control of your boat and your life to the Lord. The disciples obviously remembered this day when Christ came into the boat, as every Christian should remember the day Christ came into our lives, by grace through faith, took control, and conquered our fear of death.
Faith is the promise of the Lord. Faith is the gift that keeps on giving, through the inspired and enduring word of God (ref. Psalm 19, 119, Romans 10:17, 2 Timothy 3:16; etc.) God gives the gift of faith through the gift of His word, when we receive it, hear it, believe it, obey it. It was a word from Jesus, God incarnate, that inspired the disciples’ faith, calmed their fears, and brought them safely to shore.
Only One Gift Will Endure Forever
With a final word, Jesus conquered their fears with faith. “It is I; do not be afraid” (vs. 20). God gave the disciples a reason to fear by sending them to the sea. He gave them the faith to overcome their fears with His word and His presence. Faith endured after fear was gone.
In the original language, that phrase is only four words. A literal rendering is, “I Am, no fear.” Jesus Christ is Lord (the purpose of the seven signs and the seven “I Am” sayings in the Gospel of John is to demonstrate the deity and saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ). If you have faith in Him, in His person and work, then the day will come when you will have absolutely no fear, no fear of heights, no fear of snakes, no fear of speaking, no fear of death.
In every epoch of biblical history, God has come to His people in fear and given them faith. To Israel, Moses, and Joshua, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Genesis 46:3, Exodus 20:20, and Joshua 11:6). To Elijah, Nehemiah, and King David, God replaced fear with faith (ref. 2 Kings 1:15, Nehemiah 4:14, and Psalm 56:4,11). To Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Isaiah 44:8, Jeremiah 1:8, Ezekiel 3:9, and Daniel 10:12,19). To Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the Apostle Paul, and the Apostle John, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:30, Luke 2:10, and Acts 18:9; Revelation 1:17.). To the disciples on that boat on that night, God replaced fear with faith in Himself and His word (vs. 19-20).
In every case and to every person God says, “I Am, no fear.” If you repent, believe, and obey the Lord Jesus Christ, the great I Am, God incarnate, the feeder of five thousand, the walker on the water, the Savior of the world; then, you have faith. And if you have faith, you really have nothing to fear, not the coronavirus, not death, not even fear itself.
FAST FOOD FOR FIVE THOUSAND
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 3, 2020
1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
— John 6:1-15, ESV
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John gives us the fourth and fifth of seven signs and the first of seven “I Am” statements made by the Lord Jesus Christ. Along with the rest of the dialogue, they travel upon a mountain road that takes Jesus to the peak of His popularity then down to the bottom where He is abandoned by everyone but the twelve (and one of them is a traitor). We begin with the miracle known as the feeding of the five thousand, the only miracle of Jesus reported in all four Gospels.
On the Road with Jesus
The setting for this great miracle is the second Passover season sprinkled into the Gospel of John. The next one would be Jesus’ last, so we have about a year left to go in the greatest story ever told. If Jesus came to be popular, which He most certainly did not, this day would have made His ministry complete.
Most of Jesus’ miracles were offered in Galilee, so by now a large number of Galileans were interested in Him. It was time for the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, which all God-fearing males and their families were supposed to attend, which also helps explain the unusually large crowd. The story records five-thousand men, which means the added women and children would push the count to approximately twenty-thousand souls.
Why were so many people on the road with Jesus? At the beginning it was because Christ was offering free health care, “They saw the signs that He was doing on the sick” (vs. 2). At the end, it was because Jesus was giving away free food, “They had eaten their fill” (vs. 12). People tend to want a Savior who can give them money, or save them money by giving them other things for free. A big crowd of Americans look at government that way, now. A big crowd of Galileans looked at Jesus that way, then. But of course, nothing is free, not even pardon for sin. Someone has to pay.
Most of those on the road with Jesus were using Jesus to get what they wanted, not following Jesus to see what He wanted. They would make marvelous modern Christians. However, there were a few old school souls in the crowd. These Jesus took into His classroom.
In the Classroom with Jesus
When it became clear to Jesus that the crowd was following Him for what they could get and not what they could give, the Lord actually acquiesced. He decided to feed them all by providing them with a free lunch.
The Lord knew what He was going to do and how He was going to do it, but He wanted to teach a lesson to His disciples in the process. Class was called into session. One question was asked: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (vs. 5). Three students participate in the discussion: Philip (vs. 5), Andrew (vs. 8), and an unnamed boy (vs. 9).
The question went to Philip first, since they were near the fishing village of Bethsaida, Philip’s home town. We can’t give Philip a failing grade, for Philip was a faithful disciple. I suppose we could give him is a “D” for doubting. He was a pessimist. He did not think two-thirds of a person’s annual salary could feed a crowd that size. He obviously didn’t think Jesus could do it, either.
Then Andrew raised his hand. He had found this little guy with a little lunch of two fish and five bites of bread. Andrew is always bringing people to Jesus, bless his heart. We’ll give him a “B” for bringing. But Andrew was pessimistic, too, and thought the lad’s lunch was not enough for Jesus to work with to feed all these people.
The boy is not quoted. All we know is that he gave Jesus his lunch, which is no small thing for a small boy to do. It was all he had. Jesus, a person the boy had probably not met heretofore, standing over the boy with twelve strange men, wanted the boy’s sack lunch. The boy gave Jesus all he had. That get’s an “A” in God’s classroom every time.
Christians live constantly in the classroom of Jesus Christ. The Lord is always testing us to strengthen our faith. We should not be pessimistic, like Philip and Andrew. We should not be divas and name it and claim it, either, like the word of faith heretics. Every time we are tested we should simply look to the Lord and say, “All I have is Yours, take it and do what You will.” That’s what the boy did, he gave, and I think at the end of the day he ate more than he brought.
At Lunch with Jesus
My favorite class in school was lunch. I only wish when you got those little bitty servings of food, that Jesus would have been there in person to make the portions bigger. On this day described by John, Jesus made fast food for five thousand, plus. Everyone had plenty, and there were even leftovers to spare. It tasted good, too, how could it not?
Jesus made the food, miraculously. This was not a magic trick, for there was no stage, no props. This was not a psychological trick, where everyone got a minuscule pinch and were manipulated into thinking it was enough. This was not a ministry trick; besides, I’ve never seen the televangelists even try this one. This was a bonafide miracle, organic in nature, with multiple witnesses, for “the people saw the sign He had done” (vs. 14).
Jesus made the food, transformatively. Unlike original creation, this was not done “ex nihilo,” or out of nothing. Since that big bang, God takes what He has made and transforms it into some better. He transforms things, especially people who surrender their all to Him. He turns a small lunch into great feast, water into wine, crumbs into bread, and yes, sinners into saints.
Jesus made the food, personally. In the first miracle in John’s Gospel, Jesus made wine. In this miracle, the emphasis (as the ensuing context proves) is on the bread. Bread and wine. Jesus was giving the people Himself, the bread of life, the wine of forgiveness. Sadly, the hungry crowd did not seem to notice the parable in the miracle.
In Church with Jesus
We’ve walked down the road with Jesus, He’s taken us to school, and the served us lunch. Now it is time to go to church, for the Gospels and the gospel are for the church, to edify and evangelize. So what does this sign say to the church, and through the church to the whole wide world?
Jesus is good. He feeds the hungry. He cares for the poor. He gives common grace to all of mankind made in His image. People do bad things to one another. There is a personal devil and demons who perpetrate bad things upon people. Jesus did only good. But He is more than good.
Jesus is God. Only God can make something out of nothing. Only God can take something He has made and transform it into something better. Only God can take sinners, and transform them into saints. This most notable miracle cannot be performed by big government, by big haired TV evangelist, or by some big con. This could only be done by the hands of a big God, for Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be God.
Jesus is King, but not the kind of king most people want. Most people, then and now, will take a prophet like Moses, as long as he gives them water from rocks and bread from heaven that they don’t have to work for. Most people, then and now, will take a king like David who will fight all their battles for them so they do not have to risk life and limb. Most people, then and now, want a God like Santa Claus, to grant their wishes and give them their best life now. Jesus is not that kind of king.
Jesus is the kind of King that cares about our empty stomachs, but He cares more about our eternal souls. So He performs this miracle, the fourth sign, and all signs point to Heaven. They lead to a road to walk on with Jesus, a classroom to learn from Jesus, and lunchroom to be cared for by Jesus, and a place before the throne to bow the head and bend the knee before King Jesus, Lord of all. For if He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org