If you have a bible, I would like to invite you to open it to John chapter 6. The section that we will be studying is from verses 1-15. I have entitled my lesson: “What is in the bottom of your sack today?”
This title is in reference to the familiar story - the feeding of the 5 thousand. Let’s read verses one through four together.
You know that in the previous chapter, Jesus had just proclaimed that he was equal with God. Afterwards, the Jews sought to kill him (5:18). He then left Jerusalem to escape and the text of chapter six, reveals to us that he chose to go in the Eastern territory of the Sea of Galilee, near Bethsaida.
According to what is written in the other gospels, Jesus was looking for a place off the beaten path where he could rest. However, upon his arrival, the crowds were pressing to come and find him. Verse two of John six indicates that the people followed him wherever he went.
I don’t know if you have already had the opportunity to see the president, but in general, when they go somewhere, it is under similar circumstances as what we read here.
In the United States, for example, when George Bush travels, people usually know where he is going in advance. The entire city makes preparations for his presence. If Bush were supposed to arrive at 5:OO pm, all of the streets would be closed the evening before and people would camp on the sidewalks to be up front. Of course, even in doing that, they must be content with places on the outer edges as the front rows are reserved for the region’s prominent political personalities.
At noon, the crowds would continue to grow larger and larger. Even up to two hours before time, one would have to park 1-2 km away because there would be so many vehicles occupying all vacant spots. But up until the very last moment, people would still come. Do you know why?
Because they are still hoping for a chance to see the president and if they have to, they will stand in line for hours behind eight thousand people, for the chance to shake his hand. They will not leave until there is no hope left of getting just a glimpse of the present day hero.
In the same way, these people who were there in John chapter six, were ready to do anything to see Jesus. They followed Jesus, wherever he went, forgetting their need for food, for shelter, for all of the essentials, just to have a chance to speak to him and to share their problems with him. They would have done anything just to pass a little time with him.
I imagine that you had asked each person why he was there, you would have gotten several different responses. Some are always ready to answer, Curiosity. But it is a very deep, strong curiosity that will drive people so far and through so much.
Others might have answered that they were sick and wanted to be healed. Still others had friends that needed healing. If you asked the people there that day, I imagine the answers would be as varied as there were people. Each one had their reasons. But they were all looking to Jesus for a solution and forgetting all else.
In reading this today, I ask myself, do we seek Him with the same passion? Do we see in Him a solution to our problems and are we ready to approach Him, to the point that we forget our needs for nourishment, for shelter and other essentials? Do we have this same desire to be close to Him?
Verse 5 says this: “……” Jesus sees the needs of the crowd and decided to use this to teach a lesson to his disciples. He then asked Philippe how he could best handle this situation.
Why does he ask Philippe? Some would say that it is because Philippe grew up not far from there, in the town of Bethsaida. He therefore knew the region, if someone knew where to find a baker, it was him.
This is probably true, but I think that the text gives us another reason. Look at verse 6: “…” Jesus wanted to test Phillippe because He knew how His disciple thought.
According to what I see in verse 7, Philippe was a realist, he had a logical, rational mind. “…” In seeing the crowd, the disciple quickly made his calculations. There were 5 thousand men, plus women and children. If they did feed them, it could only be a couple of mouthfuls, and that would take the equivalent of 6 month’s salary.
He quickly turned the question over in his mind and in seeing the situation, his response was simply, it is impossible. Impossible, impossible!!
The text doesn’t mention it here, but according to Mark 6:38, Jeus then sends his disciples to see how much food they can find.
Imagine what Philippe must be thinking as he is searching the camp: “Where could I find so much bread? I don’t see any wagons filled with bread around here. Why look for something so futile?”
Notice in the text, Philippe comes back without a solution. It is Andrew who comes with a little boy who has, I imagine, a little picnic sack. Look at verses 8 and 9. “…..”
From what I read in these verses, I can deduce that the little boy was not very rich. He had 5 loaves of barley bread made with the least expensive flour from that era. The fish must not have been very big either because he would not have had the strength to carry two gigantic ones. This was a small child.
But, what is significant, is the fact that Andrew brings him anyway, and that the little boy is willing to share what he has.
Note there is a little difference between Philippe and Andrew. Philippe said right away that it was impossible and came back empty handed while Andrew found what he could and judged it right to bring it back, even if it was little, to Jesus and let Him do with what he had.
In a way, he puts what he has at the feet of the Messiah and says to him, “It isn’t much, especially in light of the great need, but here is what I have.”
And, because of this, Jesus now finds the perfect opportunity to teach His lesson. He then tells them in verse 10 “…” and then we read until verse 13 “…”
This reference in verse 13 is very interesting. Did you know that in Isreal, at the table of the great, the leftovers were always collected. They called these table scraps, “Peah”. These were the portions reserved for the servants. It was a sort of tip, as a payment of services.
And now, the apostles who have just served food to the crowd were rewarded. There was a basket left for each one. They must have been so impressed with the incredible capacity that Jesus met the needs of all, even in an impossible situation.
The disciples are left with a reminder that Jesus is Jehovah-Jaweh.
If you don’t know what this name means, lets look in Genesis 22:12-14 and you will understand.
Without a doubt, Philippe has just seen a great miracle and learned an important lesson about trusting God.
Liberals sometimes say that what really happened is that Jesus passed out the bread. And then at the same time, everyone else pulled out their lunch boxes, and that is how everyone got fed. But I think it happened just the way the Bible says. Jesus passed out the bread. And every time he reached for more bread, there was more bread to pass out, same thing with the fish. Every time he reached for the fish, there was more fish. This story is not about how we can make a little go a long way. This is about how Jesus can make a little go a long way.
I propose that we stop here today and apply some of these lessons to our lives.
The first lesson I draw from this text is how to approach challenges in my life. Have you ever noticed, the less we have, the greater the problems seem to be.
For example: in our modern economy, having few resources means that you have big problems when it comes to buying things. In the same way, if you have little education, you will find many doors closed to employment opportunities. To have a little insurance means that you will have big problems if you have a car accident. Having little represents big problems.
And when this is the case, we get discouraged.
Yet, after what we see in the bible, each miracle takes place on the platform of a problem. Today, I challenge you to find a miracle that did not begin with a problem. Whether it was in the water that God made flow from rocks in the desert, or the manna that he provided in an arid and hostile environment, or waves that were calmed in the storm, or healings that were performed for major health problems… All of these miracles were performed because of a problem.
Challenges are then, in a way, priviledged situations put in place by God to help us realize our weakness and to bring us to give them to Him in faith.
Ah, if we could only realize this each time! What a difference this would make!
We must remained convinced that with each problem comes an opportunity to trust God and to see him manifested in our lives to reveal His glory. Through this text, Jesus invites us to not have fear in the face of our problems.
So you have run out. Patience is gone. Love has decreased. Fatigue has overwhelmed you. Circumstances have demanded more than you can pay. And you find yourself bankrupt in more ways than one. You are fresh out! There is a great multitude and you can’t feed them. There is a need and you can’t meet it. There is a demand and you can’t supply it. You are without recourse and resource. You have a problem. Good! This is the place to start a miracle! Your problem is precisely where God chooses to begin the demonstration of the means of invading your poverty with His plenty; your problem with His ministry! Once the problem has been acknowledged, the possibilities can be addressed.
Do not loose courage when problems come your way.
In this story, physically speaking, there were not enough resources to satisfy the needs for nourishment. Philippe had no hope.
His reaction is a common one in such situations. And when we are without hope, we often become negative. We refuse to look for solutions, as small as they are and to bring them to Christ.
For example, how many times do we loose our cool , when we don’t have the resource of patience when we face a problematic situation and we forget to pray.
We become weak and unapproachable when our relationships or work require more than we think that we can give and we stop trying.
And when our supply is largly passed by demand, we lose confidence and react poorly.
We give up before a fight, without even trying. There is this enormous mountain in front of us and we give up before even trying to climb it to conquer it.
For example, if one’s marriage is doing poorly, the difficulties with one’s spouse seem enormous and to constantly multiply. So, instead of trying, like Philippe they say, “It is impossible, impossible! And they give up.
Or imagine the situation of the college student. He knows that to obtain a certain level of education is necessary to increase job opportunities later in life. But the path is so difficult, so long, so demanding that he wonders how in the world he will make it. And he gives up before even trying.
And how about our defeatist attitudes sometimes in church. We know that God needs leaders, but when asked to lead singing, a prayer, a class we don’t want to. Find someone else. We don’t want to because it seems too difficult. We look at the task and then at our talents and we say, “That is impossible.”
That reminds me of what an athlete once said in an interview during the Olympic games. He said, “It is not that we are superior to others. Only 10 % of the population has tried to use what they have to arrive at Olympic levels. So, there are a lot of dormant champions that have not given it a chance and this is why we go from victory to victory never being challenged”
What this athlete is saying is also true for Christianity. The reason that we as God’s people don’t experience more great victories is because we get discouraged before we even try.
What I see here is that when circumstances seem difficult, I must find the few resources I have and bring them to the feet of Christ.
And then, it is up to Him to do the rest. It is a question of trust.
My friends, if Andrew and the little boy hadn’t done that, there would have never been a great miracle that day.
It is possible that this world is deprived of seeing great miracles, enormous blessings because we don’t bring to God the little that we have to offer.
Maybe we don’t’ have a whole lot to offer in our life. Yes, maybe the little talent that we have is something great, but only if we offer it as a sacrifice on God’s alter and if we try, then we can do great things in His kingdom.
Why? Because a very little bit is always a lot in the hands of God.
Put an old basketball in the hands of Michael Jordan and what do you think he can do with it? Put an old paintbrush in the hands of Picasso and what do you think it can achieve? Put an old violin in the hands of Mozart and what do you think he will make of it? Things don’t necessarily have value in and of themselves. What gives them value is the hand of the expert that uses them.
Today, let me ask you what little things you have in your sack? Like the young boy, you are here with something in your possession. It might not be much when you consider the multitude around you.
Maybe it is a little time that you can invest in His kingdom, maybe it is a little money, maybe a few talents, some small capacities. Or probably it is a combination of these things.
Like with the picnic of the little boy, Christ can make something giant with what is in the bottom of your sack. But the question is: “Are you ready to give Him these things?”
We must stop to think that others with more and better should be the solution to the problem. Like a child, we must come and put all at His feet.
If you don’t think so, what would it take to change your life so that you can arrive at this point?
I say again, it is all about trusting God. And when we learn to trust Him, the results will be extraordinary.
Consider what He can do instead of our own limitations. May God help us along our path, because there are thousands around us that still need to be fed by Him and we are called to be His tools.