After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, there is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea, and entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid. But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid. Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.
The miracle of the loaves, the feeding of the five thousand, is one of those signs that is recorded in all the four Gospels. There must be some very special reason for this, otherwise the Spirit of God would not have been so careful that each of the Evangelists should relate the account of this miracle. There are a few differences in the way the story is presented, such as we would expect from four independent writers, some of whom were eye-witnesses and some who heard of it through others. These diversities only make more evident the fact that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, for had the four men, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, planned to make up a story about the Man called Jesus and foist it upon the world as a pretended divine revelation, they would have been very careful indeed to see that every incident was related in exactly the same way. But instead, there are differences according to the viewpoint of each one.
Matthew, as we have seen, dwells upon the promised Messiah. Mark emphasizes those things that bring out the Servant character of our Lord Jesus, for that was the object he had in mind in writing to show Christ as the Servant of the Godhead and of man. Luke emphasizes those things that speak of His holy humanity. John deals more particularly with that which would show that Christ is the Son of God, for this gospel, as we have seen, is the gospel of the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not told in John exactly when these events took place, The Synoptics show us that they occurred just after the death of John the Baptist, as the Lord was beginning the last year-and-a-half of His ministry.
We read, “After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias” (v. 1). Tiberias is on the western shore of this lovely lake. Jesus crossed from there over to the opposite shore, where a multitude followed Him because they saw the miracles that He did. Everywhere He went there were throngs who followed Him because of the wonderful works of power that He wrought. That did not mean that they recognized Him as the Son of God, but they were stirred and their curiosity aroused, and sometimes there was heart interest. “Can He be some prophet raised from the dead? Is it Elijah who is to come, or is He indeed the promised Messiah?”
Jesus went up into a mountain, a high tableland by the Sea of Galilee, and there He taught the people. John tells us the Passover was nigh. It was called “a feast of Jehovah” in the Old Testament, but it is termed “a feast of the Jews.” They had made it their own feast, because the One whom the Passover typified was right in their midst, and they did not recognize Him. It had no real value anymore.
In the evening, we read, that “when Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (v. 5). They had been with Him all that day. They had listened to the marvelous words that came from His mouth. We know, from other records, that it was the disciples who took the initiative and said, “Send them home, for there is no possible way of feeding them.” But John knew that the Lord Jesus had thought of that already. Jesus turned to Philip and said, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” We can depend upon it that whatever interest the disciples had in the great throng of people, the interest of the Lord Jesus was much greater than theirs. That is a great encouragement to us who have so little concern and compassion for the throngs about us, but oh, how wonderful that the compassions of Christ are going out to men everywhere! He is far more interested in their welfare than His servants can possibly be!
If we seem at times to fail to enter into the seriousness of things, and our hearts are not moved as they should be by humanity’s crying need, the great heart of the blessed Son of God is throbbing with pity and compassion. He looks upon the multitude with yearning love as He did long ago. He looked at them and He said, “I must feed them. I must meet their need”—He, the blessed Bread of God that had come down from heaven! So He asked, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” It was not that He did not know what to do, but “this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do” (v. 6). What comfort in that! Here was an emergency—thousands of people without any food! If they had to seek it themselves, they would faint before they could get it. They were a long way from home. But the Lord Jesus Christ had already planned to meet that need.
Am I addressing someone who finds himself in peculiarly difficult and trying circumstances, and who is wondering if God has forgotten or if He has lost all interest in you? Let me tell you this: if you have trusted Him as your own Savior, His heart is always toward you, and He knows what He is going to do. He is not going to let you down. He is not going to leave you in the lurch. It may seem as though there is no possible way of meeting your present need, but He knows what He will do. We look at the things that we can see. We can become so discouraged and disturbed as we take circumstances into account, but our blessed Lord Jesus Christ is never affected by circumstances.
He knows and loves and cares,
Nothing this truth can dim:
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice with Him.
Go back into your Bible and see those Old Testament characters who had trials. Jacob was in trouble. There was famine over all the land. One of his sons had been held in captivity because Joseph wanted to see his brother, Benjamin, but Jacob was determined that Benjamin should not go down to Egypt. But in his distress he does not know what to do, and his other sons say, “We cannot go without Benjamin.” Jacob throws up his hands and says, “All these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36). Why, you know, dear friends, at that very time God was planning for him in a wonderful way, and it was not long before the brothers came and took him and his family to Egypt, where he was provided for abundantly. Do you feel like wringing your hands and crying out in despair, “Everything is going wrong. All these things are against me.” Oh, no, they are not. God is for you. If God is for you, who can be against you? Our blessed Lord is for you. “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet apart from sin” (Heb. 4:15), because “he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (2:18). And He knows what He is going to do. He is planning for you, my brother, at this very moment. He is planning for you, my sister. Believe it. Trust Him, and be assured that He is going to undertake in His own good time for you.
And so our blessed Lord here knew what He was about to do. He was going to meet the need in His own wonderful way. But Philip did not understand, and he answered Him and said, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little” (John 6:7). Two hundred pennyworth—the denarius, called the penny here, was a full day’s wages for a man in those days. While it was in value about an English shilling or a little less, yet it had much greater purchasing power in that land. So Philip says, “Why, Lord, it would take about two hundred days’ wages to provide bread enough so that each one might take a little, and then where would we get it out here?” It seemed they were up against an insuperable difficulty. But there are no insuperable difficulties with Christ. Two hundred pennyworth of bread would not be sufficient that every one might take a little. Jesus was not going to give them just a little bit of a lunch, but He was going to give them a good full meal that would satisfy them.
Just at that time Andrew came up. He seems to be always the man who fits into the difficult place. He has been scurrying around evidently to see what he can find. He says, “I have run across a lad with a little lunch.” Yes, there always is a lad in a big throng. He slips about among the crowd. When the Lord wins the hearts of the lads, you know what they are like. This young lad was there that morning. He had said probably, “Mother, I want to go to hear the great Preacher.” So she put a lunch together. And Andrew says, “There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?” (v. 9). And yet I think that after all Andrew was not hopeless. He is asking, “Is there any way in which You can make these enough?”
So Jesus said, “Make the men sit down.” And John tells us, “Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand” (v. 10). What a throng to be fed with five loaves and two fishes, not even half a fish for a thousand. These are the people, and here is the banquet. “And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks [in perfect confidence that God would meet every need], he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would” (v. 11). The supply seemed inexhaustible. Five thousand happy people were enjoying the feast Jesus had spread for them. Then He says, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost” (v. 12). He gives freely, but will not waste anything. And so they went about and gathered up the fragments—twelve big basketsful were the fragments of five barley loaves that remained. Why, to begin with they said, “We have nothing to feed this multitude with,” and at the close they had a full basket for each of the twelve disciples! There was plenty for all. He does not do things in a niggardly way. My dear brother and sister, if you are in trouble, ask regally, for you are coming to a King. Do not be afraid to put Him to the test. He is able to meet every need. “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
They filled the twelve baskets with the fragments that remained, and “then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” (John 6:14). What made them say that? Well, these people knew their Bibles. They used the book of Psalms in their homes, sang them at the temple services, and knew that in Psalm 132:15 it spoke of the Messiah of Israel, the Prophet and King who was to come into the world. It reads, “I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.” “Why,” they said, “this must be He. That is the very thing He has done. See how He has satisfied us here with bread. This must be He indeed.”
What prophet did they mean? The one of whom Moses spoke. “Him shall ye hear in all things” (Acts 3:22). And so they said, “This must be the Prophet. This must be the coming Savior.” But the time had not come when Jesus was to fulfill all those Old Testament prophecies and take over the kingdom. He was going to do that in God’s due time. But before that He was to go back to heaven and carry on a wonderful ministry as our great High Priest, and take out a people from the Gentiles to be His bride in the day of His power.
So He withdrew Himself from the ship and went up into a mountain to pray. We have a beautiful picture of what He has been doing ever since He went back to heaven. They wanted to make Him King, but up into the heights He went. He went up there to talk to the Father, to intercede on behalf of His disciples, who were still in the world amidst the trials and difficulties. This is an illustration of the One who was on earth the Prophet, and who now has ascended to heaven to be our Intercessor, our Advocate with the Father.
“And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea” (John 6:16). The other Gospels tell us they went across the sea to Capernaum, but we are told the wind was contrary. John does not tell us that, but the other Gospels do. “And they entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum” (v. 17a). There is a kind of bay, and they are just crossing the bay when suddenly a storm came up. They come up very suddenly on the Sea of Galilee. “It was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them” (v. 17b). In this you may see a picture of the people of God now going over the dark sea of time, and Jesus, while He is indeed present in the Spirit, is personally absent. “And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew” (v. 18). They could have turned about and been driven before the wind, but that would have taken them back, and Jesus had told them to go on. So on they attempted to go. The waves rose high, and it looked as though they would be wrecked. Had Jesus forgotten? Was He indifferent? No, my brother and sister, no more than He is indifferent to your distress. No, He could see. Even in the dark, He could see. He even knows our thoughts. He knows our sorrows. He knows all about every difficulty we have to face.
There He was pleading and praying, and they were tossed on the sea. His heart was concerned about them, and so at last He comes to them. And some day He is coming to us. Even now He comes in His loving care to give us just the help we need when we are in difficulty. We read that “when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid” (v. 19). It takes faith to see Him like that today. They could see Him by sight. We cannot see Him with the natural eye, but we walk by faith, and not by sight. No matter what the storms of life, no matter how high the waves, how serious the tempest, trust in Him, count on Him, and look out in faith, and you will see Him walking on the waves. We read, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa. 26:3). But you know it is possible to be so occupied with the things of earth that we do not even recognize Jesus when He comes to help us. We are so occupied with our own affairs, our own circumstances, that we do not know Him when He comes to give deliverance.
They were afraid because they thought He was a phantom or a ghost. Oh, now things are worse than ever. Circumstances so blind the eyes that we fail to discern it is really Jesus when He comes to bring the rest we long for.
But the Savior drew near and said, “It is I; be not afraid” (v. 20). And so He speaks to every anxious heart today who is crying for help, “It is I; be not afraid.” Do not allow yourself to be oppressed with your difficulties. Once one man asked another, “Well, brother, how are you getting along?” The other looked up with a gloomy face and said, “Well, I am doing pretty well under the circumstances.” The other said, “Oh, I am sorry to hear you are under the circumstances. Christ delights to lift us above all circumstances.” That is just what He does. We do not need to be under the circumstances. Paul the apostle had more difficulties than we ever had to suffer, but he said, “I have learned to be abased and to abound” (see Phil. 4:12). God says He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Now Jesus says, “Poor, troubled souls, do not be afraid, I have come to help you.” “Then they willingly received him into the ship” (John 6:21). They said, “O Lord, if it be Thou, come into the boat with us.” He did, and “immediately” everything was changed and “the ship was at the land whither they went” (v. 21). You see, they were nearly at the port, and they did not know it. Dear friend, your ship is nearly at port; do not give up in despair. He is waiting to show you how marvelously He can meet your case. “Commit thy way unto the LORD, trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass.” But am I speaking to someone today who says, “Yes, it is all very well to speak to those Christian people that way. But look at me, I do not know Him at all. I do not know how to be a Christian?” Well, dear friends, we have a message for you. Listen to this, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (1:11-12).
Are you willing to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior? Will you trust in Him as your Redeemer? Will you believe His Word, which tells you that He was delivered for your offenses and that He was raised again for your justification? Will you act on that word which says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9)? Wiry, you see, the moment you do that, He takes you in grace and saves you. “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). And when you trust Him, then you will know that He came not only to forgive your sins, but to take charge of your life. Why not hand yourself over to Him today? Why not look up and say, “Lord Jesus, I give myself to You to be Yours, body and soul and spirit, and henceforth will You not undertake for me?” He will. He promises to take charge of those who put their trust in Him.