A Lesson In Limitlessness.
“Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, ‘Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?’” – John 6:5 NLT
John gives us a unique insight into this familiar story. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that as the day grew late, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him to send the crowds away. It was getting close to dinner time and they would have to find someplace to eat. John gives us the added insight that “it was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration” (Luke 6:4 NLT). Which means that there were more people in this vicinity as Jews were making the long trek to Jerusalem for Passover. So that explains why the disciples mentioned the crowds having to find somewhere to buy food rather than simply return to their own homes. Many of these people would have been pilgrims, just passing through on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. Inns were few and far between. There would have been few places to eat or sleep. This only intensifies the need of the moment.
At some point, Jesus turns to Philip and asks, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” (John 6:5 NLT). We’re not told why Jesus singled out Philip, but it was probably because he was from the town of Capernaum, which was about nine miles from where they were standing. He would have known all the towns and villages in the area. Interestingly enough, Philip’s response didn’t bring up the fact that there weren’t enough places around there to buy food. Instead, he pointed out that their real problem was a lack of resources. They didn’t have enough money to buy the food to feed that many people. So he simply responded, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” (Luke 6:7 NLT). We don’t know why the other Gospel writers didn’t record this exchange. It may have been that Jesus did it in private and only John was there to overhear it. John had a unique relationship with Jesus and always seemed to be at His side. So he could have been there when Jesus had this conversation with Philip. But we’re told that Jesus was simply testing Philip, to see what he would say and do, given the circumstances. Jesus already knew what He was going to do. Remember, the disciples had just returned from their short-term mission trip where they had experienced first-hand the power and authority given to them by Jesus. They had cast out demons and healed all kinds of diseases. Now they found themselves facing a new kind of problem, a different kind of need. How would they respond? What would they do?
Philips response is totally normal and natural, but it reveals a limited perspective. He was judging their capacity to solve the problem based on human and physical limits. There were too many people and not enough money. Case closed. The need outweighed their resources. Even when they found a young boy with five barley loaves and two small fish, Andrew said, “What good is that with this huge crowd?” (Luke 6:9 NLT). They had limited resources. But Jesus was about to show them new way of looking at things. He was going to change their perspective by taking what little they had and doing much with it. The real lesson was going to be that nothing can limit God. Jesus had everyone sit down. We don’t know the exact number of people, but chances are, if there were 5,000 men alone, there were probably at least an additional 5,000 women and children present. So at minimum, there were 10,000 plus people in the crowd that day. Jesus took the fives loaves and the two fish, gave thanks to God, then began breaking them apart, giving them to the disciples to distribute among the people. “And they all ate as much as they wanted” (Luke 6:11 NLT). John tells us that Jesus did not stop until everyone was completely full and satisfied. This was not a case of careful rationing of what they had. It was a miraculous multiplying of what appeared to be not enough. Jesus used the limitless power of God to produce a limitless supply of food. Nobody went without. And nothing was wasted. Jesus had the disciples pick up what was not eaten and there were twelve baskets filled with the leftover scraps the people didn’t eat. No money was used to solve this problem. There was no pooling of resources in order to produce a solution. Surely the disciples could have come up with a plan to take up an offering and then use that money to go and buy food for the people. And if they had succeeded, they would have taken credit for having solved the problem on their own. But Jesus wasn’t really interested in how or what they could do. He was trying to get them to understand that God solves human problems by heavenly means. I have to believe that there was subtle message from Jesus to the disciples in all of this. He was breaking bread and handing it to the disciples, who then passed it out among the people. The day was coming when Jesus, the Bread of Life, would be broken on a Roman cross, and the disciples would be tasked with passing on the message of His death and resurrection to people in need all around the world. And the day right after this event happened, Jesus would say, “The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33 NLT). The people responded by asking Jesus to give them some of this bread. To which He replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT). Jesus would go on to tell them, “Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh” (John 6:48-51 NLT).
The real message on the hillside that day wasn’t just about Jesus being able to miraculously feed thousands of people with next to nothing at His disposal. It was about something far greater and more important. The people who ate the food that day would have been hungry again in just a few hours. Their satisfaction would only have lasted a little while. They were amazed at Jesus had done and wanted to crown Him king right then and there. But they had yet to eat of the Bread of Life. They were still spiritually needy and condemned by their own sin. But not long from this moment, the disciples would be handing out a new form of sustenance and salvation that would have the potential to change the lives of these people forever. Jesus would give His life so that others may live. He would be broken so that others might be healed. He would suffer so that others would not have to. That’s the real message behind the miracle. We can’t save ourselves. Our resources are limited. But God has a plan to meet our need, and His name is Jesus.
Father, thank You Jesus. Thank You for providing a solution to my problem. My sin was great, but Your solution was greater. You provided a way to satisfy my spiritual hunger and give me life when I was faced with certain death. Never let me lose sight of the real message of this story. It isn’t about bread and fishes, but about the Bread of Life – Jesus Christ – the only answer to the spiritual hunger of the world. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men