It's a Miracle
Internet memes, GIF's, anime, and videos abound on the theme "It's a miracle!" Even when they aren't poking fun or outright making fun they are cartoonish. There's even one that derides this miracle specifically. It's a person who looks like we picture Jesus holding a single fish in his hand and then moves his hands like you would to show from one single playing card two. But the Feeding of the 5,000 is the one miracle, apart from the resurrection of Jesus, that is recorded in all 4 Gospels, but only John tells you the following: that Jesus tests Philip and Philip is perplexed, that Andrew brings the boy, that the Jewish Passover is near, the bread was barley, the leftovers were not to be wasted, and the effect of the miracle on the people. It's a miracle in a unique way for John and may it be for us.
It's a miracle! But the multitude could only see a spectacle. The text says "a great crowd followed Him because they saw the miraculous signs He had performed." Saw' is the Greek word for looking on as a spectator. You might say the 2 miracles Jesus had performed up to now recorded by John were a spectator-sport to this great crowd following Jesus. John specifically calls changing the water into wine and the healing of an official's son signs.' The NIV usually translates the Greek word sign' as they do here miraculous sign.' The first 2 signs are labeled by John as first' and second.' The 3rd sign, specifically mentioned but not numbered is the Feeding of the 5,000. Then comes healing of the man born blind, and finally the raising of a 4-day dead Lazarus.
But to give the great crowd its due, the text does say they were following Him, that is Jesus. Yet as we will see they were more caught up in the miracles Jesus did than in what He taught. Signs are of value if you follow them to that which they point. If you stop at the sign, you don't end up where it points you to. The crowd comes close. This sign leads them to the realization that Jesus is the Prophet and literally "the Coming One." These are two Old Testament titles for the Messiah, the Christ. Unlike what others have been saying that Jesus is one of the prophets of old or even Elijah, this crowd concludes Jesus is the Prophet Moses predicted. In Deuteronomy 18 Moses said, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to Him."
Great then, the crowds had spectated the signs and followed them to the proper place. Not so fast. If they really got what it meant that Jesus was The Prophet and the Coming One, they wouldn't have dared think to seize Him and make Him king by force. Years ago you heard some Christians saying, "Now that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior all that is left for you to do is make Him the king of your life." Jesus is not much of a king if He needs you to make Him so. Compare the crowd's reaction to Nathaniel's in John 1. When Jesus tells Nathaniel He saw him at prayer, Nathaniel responds, "You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel."
While the great crowd could see a spectacle, Jesus sees the whole parade. The text says that "Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards Him." Saw' is not the ordinary word for see and it's not the one used of the crowd having spectated the signs. This word, however, is related to that one. The first word would be used of a people watching a parade. The word for saw' used of Jesus would be a General inspecting a parade. Jesus sees where this all going and what needs to be done.
So, after carefully inspecting the incoming tide of humanity, Jesus focuses on His disciples. Specifically, He focuses on Philip to test him. He asks Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" This was to test him because Jesus knew from the get-go what He was going to do. Do you think God in flesh and blood only did that one time, to one individual? You know better. Scripture speaks of God testing Abraham. So, do you think God doesn't do that today? You don't think God brings things before your eyes to test you, to see what you'll do, even though He knows exactly what He will do and what will happen?
May we do better than the disciples. These who had seen the compassion and the power of Jesus, don't even consider Him as a resource let alone a solution. In answer to the question of where shall we buy bread, Philip says, "Even if we had 8 months wages we wouldn't have enough to buy bread so everyone could have even a bite." And Andrew checks what is on hand and concludes that 5 loaves and 2 fish won't get you too far.
Are we any different? I know I'm not. Unlike we sing, I don't "ponder a new what the Almighty can do." I think He can only to do as much as I think He can even though the Holy Spirit tells me in Ephesians 3:20 that God is able "to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine." Nope, when I'm stumped, so is God; where I'm powerless so is God. Like Philip I run to the limits of feasible resources or like Andrew I consult actual resources and that's the limit of what God can do.
However, even if I should "ponder anew what the Almighty can do", if I don't have Jesus in the equation, I miss what God in flesh and blood is willing to do. He took on flesh and blood says Hebrews so that He might sympathize with our weaknesses, help us in them, and intercede in His flesh and blood for our flesh and blood. For His sake, Jesus says we can ask the Father anything. For His sake, every prayer is heard, every tear is caught, every sigh is attended to. Jesus wasn't answered when He cried on the cross, "My God, why have you forsaken Me," so we might be boldly confident that we are always heard and always answered better than we pray.
Remember when Elijah sends Naaman to be cured of leprosy and that conquering general is miffed that he didn't come out personally and do some impressive ceremony to heal him? Here, without fanfare, without bells and whistles Jesus more than meets the needs of thousands and especially provides for the 12, both materially and spiritually. You could easily miss the miracle particularly since there are upwards of 20,000 people and the other Gospel writers tell us Jesus gave the food to the disciples who gave it out. You could easily miss the fact that God in flesh and blood was doing something amazing there. You can easily miss the fact Jesus is doing something amazing here. Vestments, the veiling of the Communion elements, the dignified music, the bowing, kneeling, and signing of the cross all remind us that in the divine service more than meets the eye is going on.
The crowd knows that they were somehow fed by Jesus but the fact they later contrast what Jesus did with Moses giving bread from heaven means they don't see the miracle. Only the 12 for sure could have. Notice the number of baskets leftover? 12, one for each of them. While they didn't even think to look to Jesus for providing, He provides for them anyway. He fills each of those baskets up. And then meets not just their material needs but their spiritual. When the crowd gets it all wrong and intends to make Jesus their king by force, Matthew and Mark specifically tell you that Jesus made His disciples embark in a boat. That's how the petitions lead us not into temptation' and deliver us from evil' were answered. The disciples, who like us, are always excited by numbers, by success, could easily have been swept up and away by the make Jesus king movement.
The Feeding of the 5,000 is a miracle that the crowd spectates in the wrong way while Jesus sees the whole picture. May we see it as Jesus does not as the crowd. Surely we can see farther and clearer than this crowd did and even the disciples. Jesus told His disciples in Luke 10, "Many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." At the time of this miracle or Jesus' Words, Jesus hadn't given Baptism and proclaimed forgiveness of sins to all nations. He hadn't established the office that proclaims God forgiveness on earth. He hadn't fed anyone with Bread that is His Body or with Wine that is His Blood. We stand on the top of the cross where Christ is crucified but we can see past the blood, sweat, and tears all the way to the open empty tomb. From our vantage point, we can see all the way through to the Last Day and know how it all ends.
We see father and we can see clearer than even apostles in the sense we have 2,000 years of New Testament Church history. We've seen the State persecute Her, take Her over, and try to use Her for its own ends. She has indeed been given up for dead, but like Her Groom, the Bride of Christ has risen again. We can conclude what David did about the Old Testament Church even more so about the New: In Psalm 37 David says, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." Miraculously the Lord of the Church has fed His Body during famines of the Word of God, during floods of false teaching, and when the winds of changing doctrine have tossed Her back and forth. Oh it would have been something to be at the Feeding of the 5,000, but somehow I think it would have ended for me like it did for many of Jesus' disciples. John records this sad result: "From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him."
That would be horrible. To see a miracle before your very eyes that is to lead you to Your Savior for salvation and have it lead to your falling away from Him. The miracle that we think would cement our faith breaks it. Much safer to see the miracle of God richly and daily providing for all your needs of body and soul. Much safer to see that each time the sun rises it's a gift; each grain of wheat and every fish in the ocean is a bona fide miracle done by God's hand for the sake of His people in Christ. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20180729), John 6: 1-15