It is a Sign

Sermon for Laetare based on John 6:1-15

Dear people fed by Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

John does not use the word “miracle” to describe Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. In fact, John doesn’t ever use the word “miracle” to describe Jesus’ many acts of healing, casting out demons, or even raising the dead. He uses the word “sign.” To be sure, Jesus feeding the five thousand was a miracle, but John is pointing us to the fact that it is more than a miracle. Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is a sign.

“Sign” is a word of revelation, as these events and miracles make known the presence of God. So, as the Israelites grumbled against God for bringing them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, God gives them a sign. He miraculously gives them quail and manna. He gives them a sign that He is with them. He will feed them. He did not bring them out of slavery in Egypt to kill them of starvation in the desert.

The problem was the people of Israel didn’t trust God. They didn’t believe that God would continue to provide for them even though He promised them He would.

Even when God had given them the sign that He had promised – He sent them quail and manna – still they did not believe. God had told them to gather manna only for the day and not to leave it over until the morning. But they did not listen. They left some until the morning because they did not trust God to keep His word. They did not trust that God would give them manna again the next day. Their day-old manna bred worms and stank. God was teaching them through this miraculous sign to trust Him and His Word; that He was with them, that He would provide for them, and that He keeps His Word.

Jesus feeding the five thousand was also a sign of God’s presence. As Jesus provided bread for the Israelites to eat in the wilderness through Moses, so Jesus provided bread in the wilderness through this miraculous sign.

The word “sign” is also used of those events and miracles that fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Jesus’ miraculous provision of bread in the wilderness did make the people say, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” They concluded rightly that this is the Prophet foretold by Moses, but they did not understand exactly what this meant.

They therefore wanted to make Jesus an earthly king by force. Why? Because they realized that this sign meant that He is God and that He is with them? No. It was because they wanted more free food. They wanted more handouts. Here, they thought, was a politician who doesn’t just promise free stuff, but actually gives it out. Jesus would have none of that and withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.

Jesus is God, therefore He is the one who provides us our daily bread. We don’t pray that God would give us this day our daily bread to remind Him of our need. He knows our need, and He gives it to us even without our prayer. He gave bread even to the grumbling unbelievers who whined to Moses and He gave it to the those who followed Him merely for free food. We pray for our daily bread so that God would lead us to realize that He is the One who provides it to us, and so that we would receive it with thanksgiving.

God will answer our petition. God will not leave us in hunger or thirst. As David writes, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for food.” (Ps. 37:25) And as Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

Sometimes it is difficult for us to remember this and to believe it. Mark records that the disciples came up to Jesus and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36) There were five thousand men plus women and children. They were far from any food. Perhaps the disciples even considered the character of the people and how many times they came near to stoning Moses when they had nothing to eat or drink. They thought it best to have Jesus send the people away to find food for themselves, as if Jesus cares about their spiritual nourishment but not their physical nourishment; as if Jesus is an inconsiderate man who has no regard for the poor or hungry.

Before Jesus responded, He already knew what He was going to do. But He nevertheless asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Sometimes we need a little testing and a little hunger to be reminded that God knows already what He is going to do and how He is going to take care of us. Our response might be like Philip’s, “We don’t have enough money to do that!” But God provides.

This miraculous feeding was not just a sign to demonstrate His power or to elicit awe and wonder. It was both a sign of God’s presence and an event that fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. On top of it all, God also provided through this sign. He gave the people real food. He fed the hungry and filled them with good things.

Jesus still feeds His people. He gives us food and drink, and all we need to support this body and life. But He gives us even more. He gives us Himself, the bread of life. Eating the bread of life not only supports this body and life, but it brings us to eternal life. He satisfies all our needs and the deepest longings of our hearts. He is the source of our life because He is the source of forgiveness. He is the source of forgiveness because He is the one who died on the cross for us, earning us forgiveness by paying the price of our sins for us.

And Jesus gives us His body and blood to eat and drink. This also is not just a sign. It is a sign of God’s presence with us and it is a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, but it is not only a sign. It is real food. He gives us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sin. He provides us what we need. He strengthens and nourishes our faith. He feeds the hungry and fills us with good things.

It is a miracle. It is a sign. It is eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.