Jesus our Provider!

The Fourth Sunday in Lent  (Laetare)–27 March 2022

John 6:1–15

1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.  3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.  5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.  7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,  9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”  10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.  11 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.  12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”  13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten.  14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 

15 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.  (ESV)

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At first glance, when we think of the feeding of the five thousand 

and how it applies to us, 

we may be tempted to turn this miracle into an allegory. 

As the crowd had a physical need that was met by Jesus, 

so we have a spiritual need. 

Without food for their bodies,

they could not have made it home alive. 

So too, without the spiritual benefits of the Word and the Lord’s Supper,

we cannot make it home to heaven. 

Now, it is certainly true that our whole lives long

we need to be nourished by the Word and Holy Communion.

But this miracle is not simply an allegory 

connecting the crowd’s physical need to our spiritual need.

There is a lot more going on! There is so much more being revealed.  

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First, we have the exposure of unbelief. 

The crowd is following Jesus, not because they confess Him as the Messiah, but because they are impressed by His healing the sick. 

Even after being miraculously fed, 

when they confess Jesus to be the Prophet of whom Moses foretold, 

they do not understand what they are saying and doing.

They want to turn Prophet Jesus into merely a king of an earthy kingdom.

In short, they have too low expectations of Jesus, 

as though He came merely to feed their bellies and defeat the Romans.

The crowd is guilty of unbelief, but so are the disciples.

Jesus knows that He is about to feed the crowd with meager resources,

and He puts the disciples to the test.

Perhaps they will remember the wedding at Cana,

where Jesus turned water into an abundance of wine.

But the disciples fail the test.

Rather than trusting Jesus to provide a feast in the wilderness,

they call attention to the “insurmountable” obstacles.

Philip says that even if bread were available to buy,

they could not afford it.

And Andrew points out that the only food readily available 

is one boy’s lunch. 

Not enough money and not enough food—

the situation looks hopeless for the crowd getting supper.

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The feeding of the five thousand exposes the unbelief

of the crowd and disciples.

But this feeding miracle also reveals who Jesus is in all His fullness.

The feeding of the five thousand was not just anymiracle;

it was the definingmiracle of Jesus’ ministry. 

It was the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. 

It was the most massive miracle, making the biggest splash of all,

witnessed perhaps by around 20,000 people in all. 

The feeding of the five thousand was not just anymiracle;

it was themiracle that made the people say, 

“He’s the One. He’s the One we’ve been waiting for 

ever since Moses promised that God would raise up a prophet 

just like him”.

And in today’s Gospel there is Jesus, looking just like the prophet Moses. 

Moses crossed the Red Sea. So Jesus had just crossed the Sea of Galilee. 

Moses climbed up Mount Sinai. So Jesus went up on a mountain.

And as with Moses in the wilderness, 

so Jesus provided food in an impossible situation. 

But there is more going on here. 

Yes, it is true that Moses had said to God’s people in the wilderness: 

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me 

from among you, from your brothers—

it is to him you shall listen (Deuteronomy 18:15). 

Jesus most definitely is that prophet. 

But of course, Jesus far exceeds the prophetic ministry of Moses.

The Book of Hebrews tells us 

that Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses…Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, 

…but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son (3:3, 5-6).

Moses is God’s faithful servant; Jesus is God’s faithful Son.

And His divinity is coming through loud and clear

in this feeding of the five thousand. 

St. John says that he wrote his Gospel

so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, 

and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:31).

The main point of the feeding on the five thousand

is to reveal Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God,

so that you may believe and have eternal life in His Name.

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Now, you might say that the miracle itself is enough to make you believe.

But there is more going on here. 

There are deep connections between this miracle and the Old Testament—

connections that might not be so apparent to us 

but which first-century Jewish converts to Christianity 

could easily see.

First, John tells us this miracle happened 

when the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand

And what happened at that first Passover?

Well, the blood of the Passover lamb was brushed on the doorposts 

so that when the LORD saw the blood,

  He would pass over the homes of His chosen people,

so that no plague would befall them to destroy them (Exodus 12:13).

Moses caused the doorposts of the Israelites 

to be signed with the blood of a lamb.

 And now, God has given us a greater sign, 

    for Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7). 

As St. Peter proclaims: you were ransomed[, redeemed…] 

not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 

but with the precious blood of Christ, 

like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).

The feeding of the five thousand at the time of the Passover

would have served as a wake up call.

It is as if John were saying: “hey people, all those animals 

that the temple priests sacrifice in Jerusalem can never take away sins (see Hebrews 10: 4, 11). 

Behold this Jesus! 

He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)!” 

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And there are more connections to the Old Testament.

God descends to the top of Mount Sinai 

to speak with Moses and to dispense the Law.  

No one could approach the mountain upon pain of death.

And the sight was so terrifying 

that Moses said, “I tremble with fear” (Hebrews 12:21).

But now, Jesus sits atop a mountain.

And according to St. Luke’s account,

Jesus welcomes and speaks to the crowd of the kingdom of God 

and cures those who had need of healing (see Luke 9:15).   

And as God did with the Israelites of old,

Jesus now provides a feast in the wilderness.

And even though this feast is recorded in all four gospels,

St. John is the only evangelist to mention

that there was much grass in the place

Here, John wants his readers—he wants you—to make the connection

to the lushness of the Garden of Eden, to Paradise.

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Do you see what is driving John in his reporting of this miracle?

He wants you to make the connections to the Old Testament.

He records that this miracle occurred at the time of the Passover

so that you see that Jesus is the true Passover Lamb

by whose blood you are spared from eternal destruction.

He records Jesus’ location atop a mountain

so that you understand that once again

God is speaking from a mountain,

this time not in terror but with compassion.

As St. Mark mentions in his account:

[Jesus looked out over the great crowd], 

and He had compassion on them, 

  because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34).

And John records this feeding miracle

   that you may believe that, as God once fed the Israelites in the wilderness,

so He now gives the true bread of God—Jesus—

who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world

(see John 6:31-32).

And finally, John records the detail of the lush green grass

so that you may be reminded of Paradise,

which Jesus has come to restore. 

In short, St. John makes all these connections to the Old Testament

so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, 

and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:31).

  

Which brings us back to our starting question:

how does the feeding of the five thousand apply to us?

Well, first, this miracle exposes our unbelief. 

Do we not often have too low expectations of Jesus,

as though His primary task were to solve our earthly problems

and make our lives comfortable?

And then, are we not often so fixated on “insurmountable” obstacles

that we do not even bother taking our troubles to Jesus in prayer?

It is easy for us to grow so accustomed to thinking 

that Jesus is not in full control of the universe

and that our troubles are more than He can handle.

Too little of a Saviour and too big of problems—

that is how our little faith views God and the world.

No wonder we struggle with discouragement and a lack of joy and peace.

But as we prayed in today’s collect,

our heavenly Father’s mercies are new every morning; 

and though we deserve only punishment, 

He receives us as His children 

and He provides for all our needs of body and soul. 

Which brings us to the second way in which the feeding of the five thousand applies to us. 

This feeding miracle reveals to us who Jesus is in all His fullness

as the God who provides for sinners.

In Genesis, we read of God testing Abraham,

telling him to offer up his son Isaac as a burnt offering on a mountaintop.

Abraham trusted that somehow God would provide.

He even said to Isaac: God will provide for himself the lamb 

for a burnt offering, my son (see Genesis 22).

And then God did provide a ram for Abraham to offer up instead of his son.

Abraham called the name of that mountain, “The LORD will provide”. 

A saying even sprang up: “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided”.

And now, Jesus reveals Himself as God’s Son, 

who comes in the flesh to provide in abundance for sinners.

On a mountaintop, He provides a feast of bread and fish

for 5,000 men, plus their wives and children.

And that mountaintop feast, held when the Passover was at hand,

directs our attention to another mountain—Mount Calvary.

There, at Calvary, Jesus will provide Himself as the substitute 

for Isaac and for you and me and for all sinners.

Yes, Jesus is the Lamb of God who dies in our place.

He offers up His lifeblood so that we may be spared from eternal destruction;

forgiven, cleansed of all our sins, and made pure in God’s sight.

And now, the risen Jesus still provides us with His love and compassion,

which is greater than our failures and weaknesses

and stronger than this world’s evil. 

The risen Jesus provides us with the feast of His Holy Word and Supper,

which nourish us in the true faith 

  as we journey through this world’s wilderness on our way home.

The risen Jesus also provides for our earthly needs.

Oh, He does still allow us to experience hardships.

But even when our sufferings persist, let us learn to be patient and content.

For Jesus our Provider with provide us with the strength to persevere 

and to keep on trusting that He is God’s Son, our Saviour,

whose goodness and mercy will follow us until the day 

He has us sit down in the lush green of His eternal Paradise

to feast with Him forever. Amen.