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Jesus, the Bread from Heaven (Jn 6:1-35)

If you are anything like me, I assume we’ve all had times when we’ve wanted to be on our own.

  • Perhaps at home you’ve tried to find time alone to read a good book, watch a favourite film or catch up on some lost sleep?
  • Or maybe on holiday, you’ve sought out a secluded beach, a quiet cafe or a peaceful park – a place in which to relax and recharge your batteries.

Jesus and his friends had similar hopes at the start of today’s passage in John. Jesus and his disciples had been preaching and performing miracles across Palestine. His ministry had attracted huge crowds, and had also drawn them into confrontation with the Jewish religious authorities.

So it’s no surprise that Jesus and his closest friends wanted some space. Some safe, quiet time alone. Time in which to think, rest, and pray. And so in verse 1 today we’re told they headed to the “far shore of the Sea of Galilee”.

But as often happens in life, things don’t always work out as planned! Our time alone may be disturbed by a knock on the front door, the ring of our telephone, or whatever.

For Jesus and his disciples, their hopes for a quiet time together were dashed by the arrival of a “great crowd” of people wanting to meet with Jesus. John tells us that there were 5,000 men in the crowd, plus women and children. They had seen the miraculous signs Jesus had performed on the sick, and wanted to see some more. His healing power had made him a first-century celebrity!

But by the end of the day people were getting tired and hungry. They had nothing to eat, and they were up on a mountainside – far from any shop selling food.

None of Jesus’ disciples could come up with a solution to the problem. They had no food of their own, and they could never afford to buy enough food for such a great crowd, even if they could find somewhere to buy it. It seemed everyone would have to travel home that night on an empty stomach!

Thankfully, there was a little boy there that day who was willing to share his packed lunch of five small barley loves and a couple of fish. He gave it to Jesus to give out among the great crowd. The boy did what he could to contribute. He put his modest resources at Christ’s disposal – a challenge for us to lay our time, treasure and talents at his disposal today.

Who knows what Christ may make of them? Because in our passage Jesus uses this boy’s generosity as an opportunity to perform one of his most amazing miracles. He made a huge meal out of modest resources. No one went away hungry or unsatisfied – there were even 12 baskets of bread left over.

The feeding of the five thousand is a miracle which appears in all four Gospels. But John alone calls this more than a miracle. In his distinctive vocabulary, it is also a “sign”. A sign designed to point us beyond the miraculous bread to Jesus himself. It is a sign to show those with eyes to see that he is the divine Son with the capacity to satisfy our souls, not simply our stomachs. And as we see in verses 19 and 20 today, he is the heaven-sent Saviour who could walk on water and stroll on the sea seemingly without an ounce of effort.

You see, Jesus didn’t feed the multitude to become the first celebrity chef – he didn’t do it to outshine Jamie Oliver! Nor had he come to be an earthly king or a political revolutionary. Jesus multiplied the loaves to reveal himself as the true Bread from Heaven. Just as God had supplied manna from Heaven for the Old Testament Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness, now he had sent his Son to save the spiritually lost from every nation and of every political persuasion. By multiplying bread and fish beside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was showing himself to be from the same Heavenly Father who gives us bread, fish and every other food at harvest time. And by walking on water Jesus was also disclosing his supernatural identity. In the Old Testament book of Job, God is described as the one ‘Who alone.. trampled on the waves of the sea.’ And in Psalm 77 we read these words about God: ‘Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters”. So by walking on water, Jesus was displaying his divine status and his creative power.

Of course, Jesus came give us something even better than bread. And he offered his disciples more than simply safety in a storm. As Jesus puts it in verse 27, he has come to offer us “food that endures to eternal life”. To all who trust in him he came to bring us God’s forgiveness and friendship forever.

Unlike bread and fish, those are two things that will never go mouldy, two things that have no ‘sell by’ date. Two things we can receive from Christ by faith. As he says in the final verse of our passage this morning: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.