Monthly Archives: July 2018

Introduction to Jesus feeding the 5,000 (John 6.1-15)

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The four Gospel writers were not merely historical story tellers, but used the stories of Jesus for teaching purposes. Each author has his own particular emphasis as they recount how Jesus fed the 5,000. Jesus’ teaching is so rich, and each evangelist highlights one aspect. John’s vision becomes clear through the teaching in 6.25-59, the verbal form of Jesus’ miraculous sign. Closely linked to the preceding chapters, John 6 again underlines the glorious good news that Jesus brings life. Jesus is indeed himself “the bread of life“(John 6.35, 41, 48, 51). Here Jesus is depicted as parallel to, but distinct from the manna which God gave to Israel through Moses in the wilderness. Both with the manna and with Jesus,  life is given to all who will partake. But those who ate the manna eventually would die, whereas those who through faith “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” (6.53) have eternal life and will be raised up with Jesus at the last day (6.54).
So John uses the fact of Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 as further evidence of Jesus being the life-giving Messiah sent by the Father above.
Matthew, Mark and Luke also tell the story of the 5,000 to prove that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. This stands in contrast to John’s glorying in Jesus’ gift of abundant life here on earth and eternal life with the Father in glory. Another parallel and contrast is that all four evangelists tell the story of the 5,000, but only Matthew and Mark recount the feeding of the 4,000.
Matthew (14.13-21 and 15.29-39)
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As I have shown in my expository book “Matthew and Mission: the Gospel through Jewish eyes”, Matthew clearly shows that the 5,000 was a Jewish crowd while the 4,000 were Gentile. As an introduction to the feeding of the Gentile crowd Matthew attacks traditional views of what is kosher and what is unclean (Matthew 15.17-20). In those days Gentiles were considered to be unclean because they were outside the covenant of God. But Jesus eagerly desires to feed not only a crowd of his own Jewish people, but also a Gentile crowd. The new covenant reaches out to all peoples.
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This anti-legalism teaching is immediately followed by the account of Jesus healing a Gentile woman’s daughter (15.21-28) in spite of his principle calling to “the lost sheep of Israel”. So Jesus not only declares his acceptance of Gentiles as no longer unclean, but he also does a miracle for a Gentile woman. The door is now open for him to feed the Gentile crowd.
Matthew uses the story of Jesus feeding the two crowds to demonstrate the universality of Jesus’ purposes. And still today Jesus longs to feed the crowds of both Jews and Gentiles of every nation, tribe and tongue. It is totally unacceptable to call oneself a follower of Jesus and yet fail to have a worldwide mission passion.
In the final messianic banquet multitudes of believers from all nations will gather at the table of Abraham. It was therefore commonly believed that when the Messiah would come, he would feed the crowds from all nations. Feeding both a Jewish and a Gentile crowd is a clear sign that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.
Mark (6.30-44; 8.1-13 and 17-21)
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As in Matthew’s Gospel, so also in Mark we find both the feeding of the 5,000 and of the 4,000. In Matthew, Mark and John the feeding of the 5,000 is immediately followed by the story of Jesus walking on the water, further evidence that Jesus is not just an ordinary man. He is the true Messiah, the very Son of God sent by the Father. Mark recounts the story of the 5,000 to show that Jesus is the Messiah, but unlike Matthew, Luke and John he doesn’t appear to have any further purpose.
Later, although the disciples had witnessed the miraculous feeding of both crowds, the disciples still worried about having no bread to eat. Jesus castigates their lack of understanding and faith. So he reminds them of the number of basketfuls of left-overs they had gathered. After feeding the Jewish crowd of 5,000 men they had picked up 12 basketfuls. And after the feeding of the Gentile crowd of 4,000 they had gathered 7 basketfuls. Twelve is the traditional number for Israel with its twelve tribes, while seven is the number which represents fullness and therefore relates to all peoples. 12 + 7 = Jew and Gentile. Jesus really is the Messiah who feeds all nations and peoples.
Luke (9.10-17)

luke_outline1.jpgAlthough Luke had accompanied Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, in some of his missionary trips, nevertheless he only recounts the feeding of the Jewish crowd of 5,000 men. But the international Jew-and-Gentile context of this story is highly significant.
In 9.1 Jesus sends the twelve out in mission and then in 10.1 he sends out the 70 or 72. As we have just noted, the number 12 traditionally represents the people of Israel. Around the first century debate raged concerning what number should represent the Gentiles. Of course 7 stood for all peoples, Jew and Gentile. But was the number just for the Gentiles to be 70 or 72? The number 70 reminded people of the children of Noah, the forefathers of the Gentiles. 72 was 2 x 6 x 6. Six is one less than seven, the number of fullness and perfection. The Gentiles were considered less than perfect (!) and the multiplication of 2 x 6 x 6 underlined that inferiority. Interestingly there was some debate in the 1st century concerning how many scholars were involved in the Septuagint, the Gentile Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament – 70 or 72? Likewise in Luke 10.1 some manuscripts have 70 and some 72. Jewish mission, the sending of the 12, is followed by Gentile mission with the 70 or 72.
As we might expect from our knowledge of the structure of the Book of Acts and Jesus’ significant relations with the Samaritans, in Luke 9.51-56 we find the Samaritans between Jewish mission and Gentile mission. The Samaritans are the bridge between Jews and Gentiles, opening the door for traditional Jewish followers of Jesus to reach out also to Gentiles unto the uttermost parts of the world. Jesus is very gracious. He does not parachute us into impossibly hostile mission territory, but helps us to widen our horizons more gradually, one step at a time.
It is in this context that Luke gives us the story of the feeding of the 5,000. And he underlines the messianic claims of Jesus by adding Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah and his account of the transfiguration to demonstrate the glory of Jesus. Having shown the messianic nature of Jesus in this way, he sees no need of telling the story of Jesus walking on the water immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. In this he differs from the other three Gospels.
Luke also makes it clear that Gentile mission will involve the disciples in considerable sacrifice. Between the Samaritan incident and the sending of the 70 or 72 Luke adds a few verses which warn of the cost of “service in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9.62). Whatever the cost we are to follow the Lord and “go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (9.60). Having put our hand to the plough, we are not to look back.

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Conclusion So we see the clear parallels between John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 and the similar accounts of Jesus feeding the crowds in the other three Gospels. While all four Gospels underline the proof of Jesus as Messiah through this miraculous sign, John’s particular emphasis is that Jesus has come as the Bread of Life, the author of abundant and eternal life.

 

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Witness to Jesus (John 5.31-47)

Witness to Jesus (John 5.31-47)
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In chapters 2-5 we have already observed the key theme of Jesus as the giver of Life. In this week’s passage too Jesus declares, “I say these things in order that you might be saved” (5.34). Related to this verse, Jesus accuses his hearers of searching the Scriptures with the expectation of having in them eternal life, but yet you don’t want to “come to me in order that you might have life” (5.39/40). In John’s Gospel Jesus equates salvation with his gift of life, eternal life. 

Witness

 

 

With perfect humility Jesus points out that it is not he that witnesses to himself (5.31); indeed he does not accept the witness of a human being (5.34). In this passage the word ‘witness’ comes again and again, showing how the witness to Jesus comes from a variety of sources.
a) The Father (5.32, 37)

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In John’s Gospel the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son is strongly emphasised. Jesus has not come down to earth of his own volition, bur rather in obedience to the Father who sent him. Likewise he does not need to witness concerning his own identity and saving mission, for the Father himself bears that witness. Is Jesus thinking of the voice from heaven at his baptism? In witnessing to Jesus as his Son the Father will use the various other means of witness which are outlined in this passage. But sadly the Jewish leaders never heard God the Father’s voice or saw his form (5.37) – does this refer to Jesus as God’s word and God incarnate?
b) John the Baptist (5.33/34)

john the baptist.pngJesus’ audience had chosen for a while to follow in the light which shone out from John, whose witness to Jesus burned brightly like a lamp at night. Jesus points out that John had witnessed to the truth – a clear parallel with the witness of the Father which, Jesus says, is true. Repeatedly in John’s Gospel we note the emphasis on truth, a necessary corrective in those days and again also in our 21st century so-called ‘post-truth society’. In coming to Jesus we begin to find genuine truth, for he is the way, the truth and the life (John 14.6).
c) Jesus’ works (5.36)

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Normally Jesus shows some hesitation towards people who believe because of his miraculous signs, but now he declares that his works witness to him that the Father has sent him (5.36). He is not an impostor who has come on his own initiative. Jesus evidently thinks here of his works as a composite whole together, for witnesses/testifies is in the singular while “works” is plural. One miracle after another plus all his other works add to each other to give a true witness. This witness affirms that Jesus was indeed in glory eternally with his Father and has been sent by the Father into this world to bring new life to us.
d) The Scriptures (5.39/40 and 45-47)

Orthodox Jews have always believed strongly in the Scriptures as God’s revealed life-giving Word. As a consequence they “diligently study the Scriptures” – what a wonderful testimony! How one wishes that this were equally true of Christians! The lack of such diligent study leads often to a weaker faith which can easily over-emphasise some aspects of our faith to the neglect of other essentials. As Christians we need to return to a strong practice of regular disciplined Bible study and exposition.
But such study must follow the Scriptures’ witness to Jesus. The Word of God is given to us in order to point us to Jesus. Jesus is the key focus of the Bible. As a consequence of our Bible study we need therefore to ‘come to Jesus to have life’ (5.40).
Although people are rejecting these various witnesses, Jesus states that he will never accuse them before the Father (5.45). Sadly he observes that Moses is the accuser. Jesus’ audience have placed their whole hope on Moses and their study of Torah/the Law of God. Moses’ writings testify to Jesus and point to him. Study of Torah and the Bible should therefore clearly lead to faith in Jesus, but Jesus’ tragic accusation echoes down through history even to our present age – ‘since you do not believe what Moses wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?’ (5.47).
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We gain from this passage the clear impression that Jesus never doubts who he truly is, how he was with the Father in glory and was sent into this world by the Father. With the perfect witness of the Father, John the Baptist, the biblical Scriptures and his own works he feels no need of any merely human testimony or support. In contrast we all still need the acceptance and appreciation of those around us. How heart-warming it is when our family show how highly they esteem us! Likewise we feel encouraged when our leaders and others thank us warmly for what we do. But ultimately we too depend on the eternal reality that because of Jesus we are loved, accepted and appreciated by God the Father himself. Like Jesus, we therefore also have no need to strive for the plaudits of other people. We can rest in the assured confidence of God’s love and approval.

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The life-giving Son (John 5.19-30)

 

The life-giving Son (John 5.19-30)

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As we saw in our last blog, John is strongly emphasizing Jesus’ gift of LIFE to those who believe in him and follow him. Now again Jesus’ teaching is added to the healing of the man by the Bethesda pool in order that Jesus’ miracle and his word together may declare this new life. Our passage in this blog follows from the accusation against Jesus that he was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5.18). Jesus’ response divides naturally into three sections, each of which is introduced by the impressive “Truly, truly I say unto you” (5.19, 24 and 25).
1. Like any father and son  (5.19-23)

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In every normal father-son relationship a son depends on his father’s example, learning from and copying what the father does. As a carpenter’s son Jesus will surely have learned the trade from watching Joseph at work. Likewise Jesus will have learned from the work of his heavenly Father. It was common in Israel to call God ‘Israel’s Father’ and the Old Testament frequently refers to Israel as the children of God. Jesus therefore seems to counter the Jewish leaders’ accusation by suggesting that they too as God’s children should surely be following God’s example and doing what God does. A good father loves his children and delights to show them what he does (5.20). So likewise God as a father loves his son and delights to show him all he does.
Jesus now declares that his Father raises the dead and gives them life. So likewise the Son also gives life (5.21) – in healing the man who had been sick for 38 years Jesus was giving him the abundance of new life. Is Jesus now already moving beyond just talking generally about everyday father-son relationships? Is he beginning to refer to himself in his special relationship with his Father in glory? So he continues by affirming that the Father also entrusts the judgement to his Son, so that all may glorify and honour the Son (5.22/23). If we honour the Son, we also thus honour the Father. And if we fail to honour the Son, we likewise fail to honour the Father. God and Jesus, his Son, are inseparably linked together. Father and Son are one.
As a missionary among Muslims in South Thailand I shall never forget one man who was converted while in prison and then he started a coffee shop when he came out of prison. In his somewhat uneducated way he told all his customers that they needed to get right with Jesus because Jesus would be their judge. Tragically after some months of witnessing in this way he was murdered, but his witness to Jesus as our judge will not have been in vain.
2. Life and deliverance (5.24)

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Now it is abundantly clear that Jesus is no longer talking in general terms about sons, but is teaching specifically about himself as the Son of God. This one verse contains in a nutshell the fundamental message of Jesus’ teaching in this whole section of John’s Gospel. All who are hearing Jesus’ words and are believing in the Father who sent Jesus to earth have (not just ‘will have’ in the future!) eternal life and they are not coming into judgement. They have passed from death into life.
So life without faith in Jesus is described as ‘death’ and is clearly contrasted with true life. Life, abundant life and eternal life lie at the very heart of John’s message concerning the purpose and ministry of Jesus. In John forgiveness of sin and the redeeming work of Jesus on our behalf is not emphasised – that is more in accordance with Paul’s thinking. For John life takes central place in the good news/gospel of Jesus. Jesus’ gift of eternal life also means that we no longer have to suffer the gloom of daily life without the glorious good news of abundant and eternal life in Jesus. And finally too we avoid the horror of condemnation at the final judgement.
3. The source of life (5.25-30)

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The final judgement is coming and the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. And those who truly hear Jesus’ message will escape the judgement and will be granted the fullness of life. The ultimate source of that life is from God himself. The Father has life in himself (5.26) and equally the Father has granted the reality of life to the Son. Like the Father therefore the Son also has life in himself. In the judgement the Son gives his life to those who hear his word and do good, but he also condemns those who have done evil. Finally Jesus gives us this reassurance that his judgement is entirely just and is not given merely to please himself.
The practice of just judgement lies at the heart of any good society – and, in contrast, a corrupt or self-pleasing judicial system will inevitably lead to severe suffering in the whole nation. We need constantly to pray that the judicial system in our nation will remain incorrupt and independent of government or other social groupings. In Indonesia we saw the fearful consequences of the judges being open to bribery and also to government pressure.

 

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