In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I. Learning to Trust the Lord
1. In today’s Gospel Reading, a large, hungry crowd gathers before our Lord, and He uses the opportunity to test Philip with a question: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5). Philip would have done well to answer as the apostle John in the Revelation and say, “O Lord, You know” (Revelation 7:14). But Philip hadn’t yet learned to fully trust the Lord. His mind was still consumed with earthly things. Depending on how you do the counting, this crowd numbered anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people, considering that the count of 5,000 excluded women and children, as Saint Matthew makes clear (Matthew 14:21). The amount of bread needed to provide even a bite to this many people is astronomical. The cost of such an endeavor would be preposterous, let alone considerations of where one might obtain such an exorbitant amount of bread and how one might go about distributing it to such a extensive crowd in an orderly manner. Humanly speaking, our Lord’s request of Philip is impossible, which is precisely the point of His asking. Philip and the other disciples needed to learn the same lessons which our Lord has been teaching us throughout this Lenten season.
1.) “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
2.) “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27).
3.) And “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
II. Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone
2. From our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, we learn that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). As our Lord Jesus provides bread from heaven for these five thousand men in the wilderness, He reveals the same truth. Earthly bread, while necessary for the body, is not what truly sustains a man. God’s Word is more powerful and sustaining than any earthly food. But Philip and the other disciples can’t see this yet. When the Lord asks Philip where to buy bread so that these people may eat, Philip’s response is despairing: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7). The real problem here is not where to find bread. Nor is the true problem that Philip needs to trust Jesus to provide bread for this crowd. The true problem is that Philip needs to learn to trust Jesus—period. Philip lacks faith, not only in our Lord’s ability to perform miraculous signs, but Philip lacks faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Those who lack faith say, “I don’t know.” Those who have faith say, “O Lord You know” (Revelation 7:14).
3. This miraculous feeding of the five thousand is about much more than bread. It is about much more than provision and where to look for earthly sustenance. Our Lord will go on to reveal this to the crowd and His disciples in the Bread of Life Discourse which follows in the remainder of John chapter 6. Among other things, our Lord will go on to say: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33). The feeding of the five thousand invites us to adopt a child-like faith which trusts the Lord that His Word is enough to sustain us. We could have all the pleasures and food this life provides, but it will never be enough. We will always want more. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Only the Word that comes from the mouth of God can satisfy.
III. The Crumbs that Fall from the Master’s Table
4. From our Lord’s interaction with the Canaanite woman, we learn that “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27). If the dogs are sustained by the crumbs which fall from their master’s table, how much more will we who are “children of promise” (Galatians 4:28) be sustained at the master’s table? You are not a dog, nor are you a slave. You are a son, a daughter of God (Galatians 3:29). You are invited to sit at the banqueting table to eat of the bread which never runs out.
5. When our Lord provided bread in the wilderness for these five thousand men, He foreshadowed this reality. Our Lord instructs these men to sit down. The lush, green grass of the place recalls images of Psalm 23, where the Lord makes His people “to lie down in green pastures” and He “prepare[s] a table before [them]” (Psalm 23:2, 5). And these men eat of the bread and the fish “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). But there is something missing from this banquet in the wilderness. There is no wine. Wine, which makes glad the hearts of men (Psalm 104:15), makes an ordinary meal extraordinary. No banquet is complete without it. But here in the wilderness there is no wine. This is not the banquet. It is only a foreshadowing. The marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9) has not yet arrived.
6. In a similar manner, you also are invited to a meal which foreshadows that final marriage supper in a greater way. At the Lord’s Table, we receive both bread and wine, though not excessive amounts. This is not the final banqueting table—we’re not there yet. Our participation at the Lord’s Table is our guarantee that our place at that final table is reserved. The bread which is Christ’s body and the wine which is His blood strengthens us until we reach that final banqueting table where we will be fed not as dogs but as sons.
IV. The Kingdom of God is Upon You
7. In our Lord’s teaching after casting out the mute demon, we are told: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). The same finger of God which afflicted Pharaoh and freed God’s people from slavery in Egypt now frees His people from slavery to Satan and the demons. Since we are free from the tyranny of these oppressors, we are brought into the kingdom of God. In Jesus, the kingdom of God has come. In a backwards way, this crowd of five thousand recognized this. Our Lord perceives that “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (John 6:15a). But He would not allow this. “He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone” >(John 6:15b). But there would come a time shortly when our Lord would allow Himself to be taken by force and made a king. “And [Jesus], bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:17-19).
The crowd was right. Jesus was their king. They would enthrone Him in His kingdom, though not as they expected. The throne of our Lord’s kingdom is a cross. His rule is not an earthly, fleshly rule. He reigns by dying, giving up His life so that sinners like you and me could be brought into His kingdom. He is the bridegroom who gives up His life to grant us that which we cannot buy with money. The king has died so that you might live. He has poured out His blood on the cross so that you might drink and live forever. He has allowed His body to be broken so that you might partake of Him in the eternal banquet. He gives you His Word of forgiveness which is enough to sustain you unto life everlasting. The kingdom of God is upon you. The king rules from a cross so that you might dine at His table.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.