John 6:1-15 ESV
So, last week, I asked the question, “Does God bring the famine?” You may not agree with me, but my answer to this question, again, is an emphatic NO! In fact, as we see with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God, wherever he is, nobody goes hungry, everyone gets what they need.
What, exactly, is famine? Famine is nature out of balance. The necessities are scarce, hard to come by, while luxuries are ironically and mockingly in abundance.
I’m going to contrast the picture of famine in revelation with the picture of Christ as he feeds the 5000. “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”” Revelation 6:5-6 ESV. This is the back horse of…famine! It’s rider has a pair of scales in his hand. We hear a voice crying out – “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” A denarius is a days wage. If we remember Jesus’ story of the laborers in the vineyard, all the laborers, whether they worked one hour or 12 hours, received a denarius, a day’s wage (I know…that’s not FAIR!! I thought Jesus made everything FAIR???!!!). A quart of wheat would be considered starvation (famine) for a family, all for a days wage. What is necessary for minimal everyday living here is unavailable (or barely available) while the luxuries (oil and wine) are plentiful, abundant. This is what greed does. We exploit the earth, leaving it depleted and poor, in order to make ourselves rich. We glorify our greed as a “higher standard of living“. We use this sacred phrase to excuse our own everyday insanity. We work by the millions in inane jobs we don’t like, making machines and products which pollute the air we breathe, we jet around from one place to another in projectiles traveling at lethal speeds (killing and maiming millions btw – I’ve read that this number is higher than all the wars fought on the earth), so that then we can sit before our electronic gods that instill in us all forms of flesh fantasies in an attempt (almost always successfully) to convince us that we must have these oil and wine luxuries and therefore have no choice but to go back to the jobs we hate to make our “products” and keep the circle going round and round.
Eugene Peterson defines famine as “the condition in which we have most of what we don’t need and almost nothing of what we do need.” Paul Goodman says this. “What do we need? We don’t need constant stimulation, poisoned food, carcinogenic air, or useless work for which we are highly paid.” Very few of us believe there is a famine in the land, but there is. In certain places, we see the pictures that come from the imbalance of greed which conspires to make the famine obvious to all. But those bloated bellies and spindly limbs which are literal fact for some are a gruesome parody of the lives of most of us.
But the rider of the white horse also does his work. “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” Revelation 6:1-2 ESV. The same Lord who teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” is at work, right now, restoring balance to the earth and the people living on it to sanity. He brings us by the tens of millions to his table of bread and wine each week to teach us to live by grace and not by greed. He is the conquering white horse rider who overcomes the red, black and green horse, but he does not change his methods. His white horse is a symbol, a product of our believing imagination. The ways Christ conquers are still the Palm Sunday donkey, the sacrificial lamb, and the mocked and crucified Messiah. His means have not changed. Christ has not given up on donkeys, lambs and crosses, he is NOT replacing them with horses, spears, swords OR bombs. No, this picture in Revelation is a validation that the the means Christ has chosen to accomplish his will and work out his salvation are in fact, against all appearances, victorious.
And what does he do when there is seemingly not enough food for 5 men, let alone 5000? He blesses the bread, breaks the bread, and gives them not only what they need, but above and beyond until their cups overflow and they are sending the excesses back!! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalms 23:5-6 ESV. Our cups are always overflowing, nobody is going hungry in the presence of Christ.
And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” It’s getting late Lord, I say it’s every man for himself, send these people out of here so we can find something for ourselves to eat!! But no, we are to feed them. It’s not every man, woman, and child for himself. We say we trust him, but do we trust him? Do we believe that our “not enough” is really more than we need? Do we believe that what starts as five loaves and two fish can really feed 5000 men plus women and children, and somehow we will have more when we finish than when we started? And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”
Mark 6:30-44 ESV
“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!””
Revelation 6:5-6 ESV
Back in the Sermon in the Mount this morning. We live in a political world, and the Sermon on the Mount shows us the politics of Jesus. We don’t get to confess and declare Jesus as Lord and then make up our own politics. We gave up that right when we made the decision to follow Jesus and claim our position children of God. By politics I mean the very structure of human society, how the world is run. There are lots of ideas for how to organize and run the world. Jesus has some, and I support Him!
Jesus just cuts right to the chase here, He’s not saving the best for last. He just comes right out with what we call his beatitudes. The beatitudes of Jesus are absolutely revolutionary, even to this day. If the American Revolution has as its central document the Declaration of Independence, the Jesus revolution has as its central document the Beatitudes. Or, as Brian Zahnd calls them, the Declaration of blessedness.
The Beatitudes are nothing if they are not counter-cultural. We will be guided by the spirit of the age, the spirit of the world, or we will be guided by the spirit of the beatitudes. And the spirit of the beatitudes is the Holy Spirit. Baptized believers who live by the spirit of the beatitudes will be counter culture and revolutionary. The world and pagan religions of Jesus time pretty well thought they knew what God blesses, just like our world does, and it’s not what Jesus says. Which, of course, is why Jesus is revolutionary!!
The spirit of the world says blessed are the proud, the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the clever, the strong willed, blessed are the winners, blessed are the champions. But Jesus says blessed are the…poor in spirit. Blessed are…the mourners. Blessed are…the meek. Blessed are those hungering for the world to be made right. Blessed are the merciful, the pure hearted, the persecuted, the peacemakers.
Jesus directly challenges the politics of the world.
The spirit of the world blesses the cocky and the self confident. Those who know they can do it, who are certain they know how to do it all in their own. But Jesus says – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Are you not overflowing with self confidence and certitude? Plagued with self doubt? Are you sometimes not sure that you can do it at all? Jesus says, “Blessed are you.”
The world blesses those who are shallow and therefore happy all the time (people like me). People with little joy of the Lord, but they are easily distracted by entertainment. Jesus says – Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed is the jilted spouse whose husband or wife has left them, leaving them paralyzed by rejection. Blessed are the parents in mourning over the loss of a child, blessed is the one grieving the loss of a career 10 years before retirement. The world would see them as cursed, but Jesus says “Blessed are you”.
All is not right in the world, and we are not called to ignore it all. It is as we hurt and mourn in our own lives, and with those around us who are suffering, that Jesus can get into our soul and carve out new depths within us.
The spirit of the world blesses the power hungry who want to run the world. Jesus says – Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus blesses those who are patient and willing to trust God.
The world blesses the “privileged protectors” – those in the inside of the “system”, benefitting from it, who will do whatever it takes to protect it. This is where the religious leaders of Jesus’ day went wrong, especially those like Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. This is where, really, leaders of every age go wrong. Rather than seeking justice and doing the right thing, they (we) circle the wagons to protect their own person privilege. Jesus singled out the Pharisees and pointed out this very tendency – “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” Matthew 23:5-7 ESV. Yes, the world blesses this, but Jesus says – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Jesus blesses those who seek justice. Maybe it’s justice for themselves. Maybe they seek to fix injustice within themselves, to set themselves right, to correct their own failures which keeps them up at night.
Or maybe it’s the one willing to risk it all for the sake of justice for others. Don’t be afraid to love enough to risk it all. Risk being hurt in the name of love. Makes me think of the old U2 song, “Pride, in the name of love”, inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. “Free at last, they took your life, but they could not take your pride. In the name of love.” A true prophet of God, right down being killed by the very systems of society which he criticized. “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.” Luke 11:47-48 ESV.
A revolutionary in the kingdom of God.
When we last saw King Nebuchadnezzar, he had just fallen down to worship Daniel and his friends after Daniel had both described and interpreted his dream. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court.” Daniel 2:46-49 NLT. So the king seems to have learned something from his experience – Truly, your God is the greatest of gods. He promotes Daniel to be ruler of all Babylon, and chief of his wise men. He appoints Daniel’s friends Shadarch, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of “the affairs of Babylon”, whatever that means. Basically, Daniel and his friends seem to be in charge after the king gets scared silly by the dream (nightmarish to him) that Gods Kingdom will come and rule long after all human empires have disappeared.
However, Nebuchadnezzar’s humility towards the one true God is very short lived.
King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. That’s a whole lotta gold statue!! Nebuchadnezzar here is rejecting the interpretation of the dream he received from Daniel. In the dream, remember, the statue had a golden head, silver shoulders and arms, bronze waist, iron legs and clay feet (or something like that). The clay feet would be hit with a stone pulled by divine hands, breaking the feet, causing the rest of the statue to crumble and fade to dust. The king rejects the interpretation that his empire would fall, to be followed by lesser empires, ultimately all to be replaced by the kingdom of God.
Instead, old Nebuchadnezzar builds this giant gold statue, declaring that his kingdom is all gold and will never end, not for any lesser empire or the kingdom of God.
Isn’t this really the way we look at ourselves? Aren’t we all golden, all good, all blessed by God, the empire that will never end? I actually had this conversation a few months ago with a co worker, an intelligent coworker, and he seemed kind of puzzled by my statement that America will at some point become just another history lesson. He responded with something about technology being so different and the financial world being so entrenched. He truly believes, as do many of you reading this, that America will last forever. Maybe, to us, America is a synonym for The kingdom of God. But…back to our story.
He sends for all the officials of the kingdom to come for his dedication of the statue. So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! All races, nations, and languages, listen up!! Aren’t all the nations and races to bow down to Jesus? This is the way of all empires, always. Empire demands the right to tell the rest of the world how things are going to be done. They claim the power of God to rule the nations. When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. When you hear our anthem playing, bow down and worship the empire!! Oh, how we react to someone who does not stand for our own anthem. (Please understand, sometimes I write these more to myself than anyone else…)
That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.” So not just an order of the king to bow down, but very specific consequences if we don’t. For those who refuse to bow down before the golden statue of the empire a blazing furnace awaits. And by the way, King, those Jews you put in charge – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – they just don’t get it. They don’t respect you. They refuse to bow down and worship your golden statue of empire.
Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” It can’t be true, can it?? You guys are my main men!!! I KNOW you don’t have a problem with bowing down before my statue!! In fact, Nebuchadnezzar says he’ll give them another chance, if they’ll just reconsider and bow down, this whole little controversy can just go away. But if not, what God can save you boys??!!
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” O King…there’s been no mistake. We understand. But we believe OUR God can save us. But even if he doesn’t, we will never serve your Gods. We are willing to work for your good and the good of those around you, but we will NEVER worship your golden statue!!
Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. Ok!! You won’t bow down to my golden statue, then we’ll turn up the furnace SEVEN TIMES HOTTER!! We don’t even know how hot that is!! He’s got the strongest men in Babylon to tie up these three, but they get killed by the flames just trying to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in!! And poor Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they are tied up and thrown into that inferno…they have no chance!!!
But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?” “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” They have no chance. Except they do. When the king jumps up and asks “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”, I just love this translation of the response of his advisors. “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. But there were now 4 men inside that furnace, not 3. And that 4th one, he kind freaked old Nebuchadnezzar out, he looks like a god!
Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
We know who that fourth man was, don’t we?? We call Him Messiah, wonder worker, the son of God, the son of man, Prince of peace, the alpha and omega, the beginning and and the end. Love. Prince of peace and Lord of Lords. Kind of like that nightmare, He freaks the empire out, but we long for His presence.
If we (you) stay true to Jesus, there is no promise you will not suffer in the furnace. Jesus’ apostles suffered. Martin Luther King Jr suffered. Dietrich Bonhoeffer suffered. Stephen suffered. But if you oppose empire in the name of Christ, He will always be with you. He may deliver you from the furnace, or He may not. But he will never forsake you.
We can,and do, seek the good of our nation, but we can not bow before the Golden statue that says God is on our side no matter what. God can not and will not serve our selfish interests. He can only rule in his love and justice. Asking God to bless our nation at the expense of other nations is an attempt to make all the other nations bow down to our golden statue.
Jesus taught us how nations are judged under his rule, which has ALREADY STARTED. Jesus is Lord. He is lord right now. Not Lord-elect. He has been raised from the dead and promoted to the right hand of the father, and the father has given him all authority over the heavens and the earth. He is judging nations right now, but not according to the size of our economy or strength of our military. He judges nations by how we treat the poor, the sick, the immigrant and the imprisoned. Remember this – “”When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:31-40 ESV. Before him will be gathered all the nations…
We say God Bless America, and well we should and well we could. God has certainly blessed America, in so many ways we have been that shining city on a hill. But we, even inside the church, have forgotten that Jesus set conditions for blessing.
“”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:3-12 ESV
If we line up with the sermon on the mount, the blessings will be there. We want to blessed, but we want the blessings to come our way. We want to “make our own luck.” We don’t want to be humble. We don’t want to be meek. We want to be powerful, strong and mighty. We want all the nations to dance to our tune. We want to bow down to a golden statue.
I’m back to the humanity of our Christ. I’ve looked at his temptations before, and I’m back here again. How we see Jesus temptations in that Judean wilderness will tell us much about how we see Christ’s humanity. Let me ask you a question. Do you believe Jesus was actually tempted by the devil? In other words, do you think Jesus actually considered the options presented to Him? Were the temptations real, or are we just reading a super hero cartoon? How were these temptations presented?
Did the devil come walking up in a red suit with funny little horns and a pitchfork? How does the devil come to you? If the devil was that easy to call the devil, avoiding temptation would be easy for all of us wouldn’t it?
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. He was led by the spirit to be tempted by the devil, that would be the Holy Spirit. Why would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus to be tempted by the devil? My only answer is that to be fully human, Jesus HAS to know what it feels like to really be tempted to sin.
Think about this for a minute – where did this story come from? How did it come to be recorded? It could only have come from the mouth of Jesus Himself, telling it to his disciples. So my question for you is – did Jesus know He was going to be tempted? Of course not. We almost never know when we are about to be tempted. We know if we go certain places there will be temptations. Sometimes we go places FOR the temptation – bars, strip clubs, Vegas baby!! But other times, we are being tempted and don’t even know it. That is when we are really tested. That’s what was going on with Jesus here. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The Judean wilderness is a very harsh environment. It says Jesus was led out there to be tempted, but what was on His mind? What was he fasting in the desert for? He was out there fasting and praying, getting as close to the Father as He could, trying to figure our HOW to achieve His objective – to bring in the kingdom of God. What methods was He going to use? How would He approach people? How would He get His Good News to the world?
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus, after being out in that desert fasting and praying for forty days and forty nights, was VERY aware of human NEED at this point. He’s tired. He’s hungry. He’s pushed his physical body to the very limits of survival. So how does this temptation work, what is it? Is Jesus simply tempted to cheat on the last day of his fast, turn some rocks into fries and a shake and call it a day? Remember what Jesus is preparing Himself, what’s on His mind out there? How to bring in the Kingdom of God. What I see happening here is an idea, it seems like a good idea, creeps into His mind – “You could provide for all the people’s material needs and they would LOVE you for it!!”
The temptation for Jesus was to bring the Kingdom of God by basing it on fulfilling material needs. “Feed the people, fulfill their material needs, and they will fall down and worship you for it!” Sounds like a good idea. Heck, sounds like a great idea to us in 21st century America doesn’t it? That’s really all we want from Jesus, a better car, a new house, a new husband, in so many ways this is what we’ve reduced Jesus to. Vending machine Jesus. Say a prayer, get “saved”, now gimme gimme gimme. But I digress…
Some of us are still tempted to try to bring the kingdom of God this way. We think we don’t need no church. We don’t need no religion. Just go out, do good works, meet people’s needs, feed the hungry. It really sounds good. People would love it. The world would not be opposed to Christians getting past this whole church thing and just doing good for people. We’d get lots of new “converts”. It is a very real temptation, isn’t it. BUT – it’s also satanic.
But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” It’s a good thing Jesus knows His bible. Because that’s the only way he was able to recognize satan as satan. Most of us just think it’s a great idea. The two greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. You can’t do one without the other. You can try, people HAVE been trying for centuries. That’s what Marx tried. And it will always fail. Because – we need the love of God in our hearts to even begin to love our neighbors. We need the worship of God to form us into people who care about their neighbors. To begin to know even what loving our neighbors means, what it looks like. We can’t just skip the first four of the Ten Commandments and go straight to those social justice commands we like. As Pastor Brian Zahnd says, man can not live on social justice alone!
We know that Jesus did feed the multitudes. He fed the 5000. What happened?? They LOVED it!! And they should – it’s a good thing. But what else happened there?? “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 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 6:14-15 ESV. Jesus came to be king, in fact He became the king and is still the King. So why did He withdraw from this crowd who wanted to make Him king? Because they were about to come and take him by force to make him king. Jesus came to be king, but not by force. Why?? Because taking power by force is not the way of God, it’s the way of the devil.
Sometimes the devil is not so easy to recognize. Sometimes he just seems like a good idea. And man can not live by bread, material well being or social justice alone.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'””
Matthew 4:1-4 ESV
Circling back around to Jesus feeding of the 5000. I came across something in my reading this week that opened my eyes to a way of looking at this miracle I had never considered. It’s nothing new, since what I read was written in 1975 by William Barclay. But it is new to me, so I’m going to share it with you.
I’m going to get right into the sharing and distribution of the food here. I’ve looked at the background of this story before and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but I’m really just interested today in the meal.
This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” But Jesus said, “You feed them.” “With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.” They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.” “You feed them“. Now there’s a command for the ages. But seriously, look at the disciples response to the command from Jesus – “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” That sounds so much like us today, doesn’t it? Hungry people all around us, and we are worried about what it’s all going to cost us. We worry about the change in our pockets more than the rumblings in other people’s bellies. Jesus simply asks “How much bread do you have?” And we know the answer instinctively by now, don’t we? “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.” See, here’s where I think this gets interesting. This miracle is shared in all four Gospels (and it’s the only miracle of Jesus that appears in all four). But only John tells us where these five loaves and two fish come from – “Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” John 6:8-9 NLT.
Think about this – there are 5000 men here. But there are also families with them, women and children. It’s been estimated that as many as 25,000 would have been the actual number of people here. They live in a completely different culture than we do, there is no McDs or Subway on every corner. Even so, when I go on a field trip with my kids, normally we bring a lunch. This has struck me before, how there is just no way that this kid is the only one with any food here. But here’s the thing – he is the only one, out of all those people who was willing to share what he had.
So here is the new-to-me thought on this miracle of Christ – there were five thousand men along with an unknown number of women and children, all of whom were getting hungry. And all of whom were completely selfish. Most, if not all, of these people had something with them to eat. You wouldn’t have gone that far from home without lunch in your pack. There is no Wawa to get a steak n cheese from. Packing a lunch, and carrying it with you, is what you did. So here we see thousands of people sitting around hungry, and except for one heroic young boy they all chose to stay hungry instead of pull out their lunch for fear of having to share it with someone. So the twelve laid out what this young boy gave, Jesus blessed the food, and then thousands more were moved to produce what they had been hiding all along. And of course, there was more than enough for everyone.
So we could then look at this as a miracle which turned selfish, suspicious people into generous people. It was a miracle of Jesus which made men go from self-interested to being willing to share, which turned out to be in their self interest anyway. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.
I’ve got to say this – I believe this view works very well with the overall theme of the gospel. From the very call of Peter, Jesus is talking about making us into something different – “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”” Mark 1:17 ESV. And to this day, when Jesus calls, he is making us into something different than we are. Viewed as a miracle of selfish men turned generous plays very well into what Jesus might want to do in our lives, doesn’t it?
God made a world which is bountiful. Whether you live in America like me, or you live in China, Kenya, Romania, Australia, India, any country in the world, I’m going to guess that if you are reading what I write, you have plenty to eat. Our world is more than capable of feeding all its inhabitants. If you are a gardener, and you put seed in the ground, do you not have to prune away even excess growth to make it grow better? Even that small seed produces more than we can handle.
Yet we see hunger in our world. I drive by hungry people all the time, and still get angry that they are asking me for my money. Food banks all around us try to feed hungry families locally, but we ignore them because we are afraid we might have to share some of what we have. We all see the ads on TV designed to tug at our hard hearts asking us to give so those hungry children can eat. Our world has more than enough food. The problem here is not one of supply. Just like Jesus miracle in feeding those 5000, if we would be willing to share some of what we have there is more than enough to go around.
I’ve seen statistics on food thrown away simply off of cruise ships each year. It is enormous, counted in thousand of tons. Restaurants, stadiums, even grocery stores. The Food Lion in my neighborhood recently changed over to a Weiss Markets, and many items in the store would no longer be carried. I know the Farming for Hunger organization was contacted to see if they could take some of the frozen food. I think they could take some, but simply couldn’t store most of it.
Clearly we have enough, right now, to eradicate hunger on our planet. The trouble, it seems to me, is mostly in the delivery. Food is, by nature, perishable, so it is difficult to get from point A to point B before it spoils. But it’s also a heart problem. Local food pantries, local soup kitchens, can’t feed all who come. We walk and drive by hungry people every day without sharing the time and resources it would take to make them…not hungry.
Obviously, this is a problem that’s always been. But does it always have to be. I think, seen in this light of selfish hearts turned generous, the miracle of the five thousand has some big lessons for us in the 21st century. Jesus commands his disciple here – “You feed them.” What would He tell us?
Hungry families in Calvert County? “You feed them.”
Homeless people in SE DC? “You feed them.”
Hungry, impoverished children across America? “You feed them.”
Children starving to death in Ethiopia and across the African continent? “You feed them.”
It all started with a young boy who was willing to share. We still talk about it 2000 years later…
“The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” But Jesus said, “You feed them.” “With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.” They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.” Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.”
Mark 6:30-44 NLT