This week saw the death of Robert Mugabe, the former leader of Zimbabwe. Under his nearly 40 years of rule, his country went from being the ‘bread basket’ of Africa to one of its most unstable and impoverished nations. He was a leader who failed to provide for his people.
The contrast could not be greater with the leader, the Lord, we encounter in our Bible readings this morning. A leader who marvellously, miraculously, fed his people.
In our Exodus reading the Israelites lacked certainty about their next square meal. Out in the desert there was little to eat, and they began to grumble. Some even became nostalgic for the food they ate in Egypt – conveniently forgetting the slavery they had endured there.
Fast forward one thousand years, and again we encounter a large crowd of hungry Israelites. Having heard Jesus preach on a hillside all day, it was getting late, they were getting hungry, and there was no obvious food supply.
In both these situations God steps in to satisfy his people’s needs. In compassion and grace, he miraculously provides food for his people. In Exodus he provides manna and quail for the multitudes in the desert. Through Jesus, he fed five thousand on that Palestinian hillside.
The feeding of the 5,000 is one of Jesus’ most famous and significant miracles:
• A miracle which appears in all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
• A miraculous sign that Jesus used to explain who he is and why he came.
Because today’s miracle points us to Jesus as the bread of Heaven. It highlight’s Christ’s capacity to satisfy our deepest needs – to nourish our souls not just our bodies.
This was the first miracle in the Gospels in which Christ created something entirely new out of nothing. For once, Jesus didn’t simply repair, renew or transform something or someone that was already there. It was more than a healing or an exorcism. It was a miraculous act of new creation. There was bread straight from heaven, bypassing any baker! Quite simply amazing!
Creating ‘something out of nothing’ may have been new in the earthly ministry of Jesus, but it was not something new for God. In the book of Exodus we read that the Lord provided bread from heaven, called “manna”, for the Israelites as they walked through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Early in the morning flakes of manna were found on the ground, enough to sustain them during the day ahead.
So by creating food for the hungry, Jesus was declaring himself to be more than just a prophet, priest or a king. He was showing himself to be the same God who had once fed Israel in the desert.
In verse 35 of John chapter 6 we are given Jesus’ own interpretation of today’s miracle. He says that he had fed the five thousand to show us that he is the “Bread of Life” sent from his Father in Heaven. Sent not merely to fill the stomachs of a large crowd two thousand years ago, but to nourish us spiritually today as well.
In a world of bereavement, death and despair, Jesus brings hope, healing and new life. Christ can completely satisfy our deepest needs – our needs for security, pleasure, significance and love.
• Christ’s resurrection means he can offer us security forever in the face of death;
• Jesus can give us the joy of becoming beloved children of God;
• And Christ can give our lives eternal significance and purpose if we choose to trust and follow him today.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeatedly taught that he is able to provide food that removes every kind of hunger, and can offer us living water that eradicates all types of thirst. Today’s feeding miracle was a visual demonstration, public evidence, of the truth of these claims. Proof that Christ can deliver what he promises us.
The Gospel tells us that all the crowd was fed, and everyone of those 5,000 people had enough to eat. Jesus’ generosity was so great, in fact, that his disciples were able to collect twelve baskets of left over, uneaten food.
Jesus had transformed the equivalent of a child’s picnic into enough food to feed a football stadium full of hungry people! Christ had shown his capacity to satisfy every human need. He had shown himself to be the Son of God who sends us our daily bread and can save us spritually forever.
So whatever troubles or trials you may be facing today, remember Jesus cares for you and has the capacity to help you. The challenge for us is to continue being fed by Christ as we read his Word in Scripture, nourished as we speak with him in prayer and satisfied as we share in the Lord’s Supper together. May we look to him for food that will not spoil. Food that will nourish us for eternity.
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