Feeding the Crowds (Part 2) – John 6.1-14

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Introduction (6.1-4)

a) Galilee
Although John only records the feeding of the 5,000 (a Jewish crowd) and omits the Gentile 4,000, he locates it in the ethnically very mixed Galilee – even across on the other side of the lake where the population was mainly non-Jewish. So John reminds us again that Jesus desires not only to feed his own Jewish people, but also the Gentiles. As followers of Jesus we too are called to feed both our own people and also ethnic minorities and all peoples in every country all over the world.
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b) “A great crowd”
Many churches in Britain  seem content with a nice little congregation of about a hundred. And if they attract two hundred people, they are looked upon as a large and significant church. Considering the total population of a city or town, we quickly realise that two hundred is just a drop in the bucket. How can we win the crowds for Christ, not just a few individuals? “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them” (Matthew 9.36). In Africa, Asia and Latin America some churches do have such huge congregations that they really can make an impact in their locality and reach the crowds for Jesus.
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c) What drew the crowds?
The great crowd followed (a significant word in the Gospels) Jesus “because they saw the signs he did for the sick” (6.2). Healing miracles make an impression and draw the crowds, but true faith cannot just be based on sensational signs. We may observe in these verses that Jesus immediately leaves the crowd, goes up on a mountain and sits down there just with his disciples (6.3). After he had fed the crowd he also “withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (6.15). He dared not entrust himself to them, for they had a completely wrong understanding concerning him as Messiah and as the promised “Prophet who is to come” (Deuteronomy 18.15).
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d) A Mountain
God revealed the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai. Jesus comes with a prophetic ministry like that of Moses, revealing the Word of God in his own person – he is the Word. In the Bible God frequently reveals himself very specially on a mountain. Jesus calls his disciples on a mountain, he is transfigured on a mountain and he gives his final Great Commission on a mountain. And now in John 6 Jesus feeds the crowds and reveals himself as the Bread of Life on the mountain.
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e) Passover
At Passover we celebrate God saving us from death, granting us his liberating life. It was at Passover that Jesus died for us as the sacrificial lamb. By carefully noting that Jesus’ feeding of the crowds took place at Passover time, John underlines the fact that Jesus has his death in mind as he feeds the crowd.
John doesn’t record Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples just before his betrayal, trial and crucifixion. But John 6 seems to take its place. The verbs in 6.11 remind us of that Last Supper and the institution of the Communion Service in which we share in Jesus’ death – Jesus took the bread, he gave thanks and he distributed them. So John again emphasizes that Jesus has his impending death in mind.
So, when Jesus was feeding the crowd, he was not just thinking of bread and fish, material feeding. In giving the bread, he was not just looking back to Moses and the gift of manna from heaven. He was also looking to the future which lay before him. Evidently he wanted to feed the crowd with his sacrificial atoning death. In his mind the physical and the spiritual went hand in hand. So it is still today in Christian mission. We are called to give bread and fish to the hungry crowds and also at the same time to share with them the good news of Jesus’ saving death and life-giving resurrection.
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What a test! (John 6.5-15)

To test him and perhaps also the other disciples, Jesus asks Philip where they could buy enough bread to feed the crowd. The other Gospels tell it slightly differently; in them Jesus says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat”. One can only shudder at the challenge and laugh at the pathetic response. They have seen that a boy in the crowd has five small loaves and two small fish – both “loaves” and “fish” are in a strongly diminutive form in the Greek. What use is that with a crowd of 5,000 men, not counting women and children?! In that pre-birth control era a typical family may have been husband, wife and six children. So the crowd may well have consisted of up to 40,000 people in total. Five little loaves and two small fish (not whales!)! What ridiculously inadequate resources! But in the hands of Jesus, inadequate resources can be multiplied. So that huge crowd ate from those loaves and fish until they were full. And twelve baskets of left-overs were gathered.
As we face the crowds today in mission, we may also feel with those disciples. Our gifting and resources seem so futile in the face of the immense task of world mission. For example, what impact can our little congregation make on the 1,350 million people in China? The very question is ridiculous! And individually we may feel dreadfully inadequate for the task of mission locally to the people in our street, our housing area, our town and county. As we face our weakness, let us place our pathetic resources in his hands, rededicate ourselves to feed the world’s crowds and trust him to multiply our gifts.
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