John 6:1-5 Over the course of our lives all of us will be confronted by situations that seem hopeless. Out of nowhere a deadly disease will strike down a loved one. A couple that we know and love will make some very bad decisions and get a divorce. A friend will bring misery upon themselves and their family through some addiction.
That’s when the misery of the world becomes our own. Most of us will make an effort to help. But when we see the poverty of our own resources we are tempted to throw up our hands in despair and give up–and lose hope.
That is why it is so important for us to know that, when we are confronted by situations that seem hopeless, God is not asleep at the wheel, he is not nodding in his rocking chair, and he has not abandoned us.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus steps right into the middle of this broken, needy world and assures us that there is help for us in these situations no matter how hopeless it seems and no matter how meager our own resources are. The Bible says that:
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the
. And a large crowd was following him, because
they saw the sings he was doing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was
at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and
saw that a large crowd was coming toward him Sea of Tiberias
The Good News for us today is that no matter what we are facing, no matter how difficult and overwhelming, Jesus knows about it and cares. With the same eyes that saw the needs of the people that day Jesus sees our needs today. Not only are our spiritual needs his concern--but our physical needs as well are a part of his loving concern for us.
What drew the crowd to Jesus were those miracles that met physical needs and relieved physical burdens in hopeless situations. He healed the sick and raised the dead and drove out demons.
In every situation Jesus showed that where our resources and efforts are insufficient–when the situation seems hopeless--he is more than able to lovingly provide for the needs of his people—just like he did that day.
He was not just a disinterested observer of the world’s misery (as we sometimes are) and he didn’t turn his back on those in need (as we sometimes do). He saw their need, had compassion on them, and brought the mercy and power of Almighty God into their lives to provide for their needs.
So it is with us who gather around Jesus today in this place. He sees your needs and the needs of those you love and promises to provide.
Because Jesus is with us, we are not alone- and the situations that trouble us are not hopeless. Whether it is an illness or a marriage in trouble or an addiction or a financial disaster that threatens us, we can be confident that Jesus sees our needs, has compassion on us, and will act in perfect love and wisdom to provide for those needs just like he did that day. The Bible says that:
Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people might eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
The second point I want to make is that we are not merely at the mercy of forces beyond our control but that God uses difficult situations–even the seemingly hopeless situations that are troubling us right now-- for our good. They have a meaning and a purpose that is rooted in the eternal, loving will of God for our lives.
Often times, just like with Phillip, they are a test of our faith—God lovingly using difficult times to make our faith stronger. The Bible says that we are to:
Consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because we know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance.
We know about this kind of testing don’t we? We can look back at moments of testing when we went through hard times and how with God’s help we became stronger Christians because of it.
With Christ by our side, we can be joyful even in the midst of trials because we know that he is strengthening and sustaining and purifying our faith. That’s what Jesus was doing that day with Phillip.
Jesus wanted Phillip to recognize two things. He wanted him to recognize his own insufficiency to meet the needs of the people of that day–Phillip passed that part of the test. He said: Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. Phillip knew that he and the other disciples didn’t have the resources to meet those needs.
But more importantly, Jesus wanted Phillip to recognize that there was One there with him who was more than able to provide for the needs of the people in such a hopeless situation and it was Jesus.
Jesus who had calmed the sea, Jesus who had healed the sick, Jesus who had raised the dead was more than able to feed the multitude---but Phillip was so focused on what he didn’t have that he forgot about the one standing next to him.
We do the same thing. When we are confronted by the impossible and the hopeless we forget that it is that Jesus is with us every step of the way! He wants us to lift up our eyes from what we don’t have to who we do have-- and see in him the provision for our needs of body and soul. The Bible says that:
One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?
Phillip gets some bad press in this account but Andrew didn’t do much better. He suggested five barley loaves and two small fish but recognized that it wasn’t much. He too forgot about who it was that was with them–the only one who could provide for that multitude of people.
But there was another disciple there who was following Jesus. He doesn’t have a name in the story but he was a follower of Jesus–a believer--a little boy who brought his little lunch along–barley loaves and fish, the food of the poor and he placed his lunch in Jesus’ hands with confidence and faith in Jesus’ power.
We can do the same. We all have resources that Jesus has provided to us to give to someone in need. A shoulder to cry on–a compassionate ear to listen to their worries–physical resources to meet their needs.
Like Andrew, too often we see how little we have to give--and so we give nothing—but the little disciple in our text reminds us that though we may have little to give, if it is given in child-like faith, simply entrusting it into the hands of Jesus, it can meet the needs of others beyond our wildest imaginations. Jesus told his disciples:
“Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
We have heard the miracle of the loaves and fishes so many times over the years of Sunday school and church and I’m afraid because of that we don’t hear it anew. But just imagine with me for a moment how the people must have experienced it that day.
You are seated in the midst of a crowd, people as far as you can see, and one guy way down in front lifts up the food to heaven, gives thanks to God for it, and begins to hand it out.
And then a miracle takes place. Rather than being depleted by the distribution to the crowd, the food grows and grows and grows. And by the time the meal is finished, with everyone holding their stomachs and groaning with satisfaction, there is more left over than what they started with.
You can imagine how the murmurs of amazement in the crowd must have grown into shouts of joy and delight as they saw what was happening. A miracle! A sign from heaven pointing directly to Jesus as the one whose open, outstretched hand provides for every living thing.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountains by himself.
Scripture had foretold of the prophet to come who would do greater miracles than Moses. That is who the people knew Jesus to be and so they set out to make him king. But Jesus would have none of it. He knew what was in people’s hearts. They wanted a “bread king”--someone who would always satisfy their physical needs.
We fall into the same temptation of wanting Jesus’ help for our needs but rejecting the salvation he offers and his lordship over our lives. We too want to make him into a “bread king”. But Jesus will not let that happen because he knows that “bread kings” ultimately destroy people’s souls—giving the people what they want instead of what they need.
Jesus knows that we have a need that is greater than food and clothing and shelter—and that is the need for salvation. Our own resources of good works and right intentions and serious resolutions to try harder are insufficient to meet that need.
Nothing that WE can do or we can say to God is going to change his verdict of guilty for our sins of hopelessness and materialism and doubt. But God does provide a way of rescue in his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus came into the world NOT JUST to provide healing and food for a time for a few-- but to provide forgiveness and salvation for eternity for all.
He lived a holy life in our place, always loving and caring for people and providing for people and he suffered the punishment for our selfishness and doubts and hopelessness on the cross. His life’s blood was and is God’s perfection provision for our salvation.
God invites us today to look up from our insufficiencies and failures, to turn our backs on hopelessness and despair, and to trust in Christ alone for our salvation.
No sin of yours or mine or the entire world is enough to deplete the love and mercy of God that is bestowed upon us through in the crucified and risen body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.