Hope for the Hungry (John 6:1-15)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: John 6:1–15
I. All of Us are Hungry
Are you hungry this morning? It doesn't matter how big of a breakfast you had, I know that you are. In one way or another, I know all of us are. No, I'm not talking about food insecurity, though that remains a real concern in our community. There are hungers deeper than a longing for food; hungers that hurt, not physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually; hungers that drive us, often in desperation, to find some kind of satisfaction. Here are two questions to consider very carefully (please be honest with yourself): “For what are you hungry this morning?” and “With what have you been feeding yourself, in light of that hunger?”
So much of the modern world sells itself to us as a solution to these deeper hungers. Things like possessions and pleasure, romance and recreation, power and prestige, are offered as supposedly satisfying options. Often these so-called solutions seem filling at first, but in the end, the hunger remains... or deepens. So what is the solution for such hungers? Where is satisfaction to be found? Let's bring our questions and our hungers to God's word this morning.
II. The Passage: “When They Had Eaten Their Fill” (6:1-15)
As we continue our study through the Gospel of John, we find ourselves in chapter 6. Turn there if you haven't already. This morning, I'd like to look with you at verses 1-15. Let me break this passage down into a few parts, with the first part being verses 1-4.
1. Setting the Scene (vs. 1-4)
Listen to how John sets the scene for his reads here. Verse 1:
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.  Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.
You may remember that in the previous chapter (chapter 5) Jesus had been in Jerusalem for an unnamed Jewish feast. Verse 1 here of chapter 6 simply assumes that Jesus returned to Galilee (i.e., northern Israel) after that feast. That's why it talks about “the other side of the Sea of Galilee”, that is, the eastern side, opposite side from Capernaum. Verse 2 reveals that Jesus is being followed in that region by “a large crowd”. Why are they following him? “...Because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.” This verse is a good reminder of John's goal of supplementing the other Gospels. Though John will only highlight seven signs, seven miraculous acts, he knows his readers are aware of the many passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that describe how Jesus healed the sick. Jesus has undoubtedly gotten their attention.
But we're also told in verse 4 when this chapter takes place: Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. We know from that time indicator that it's been a full year since Jesus cleared the Temple and was confronted by the religious leaders. That took place in chapter 2. Is John simply playing the 'helpful historian' here in terms of dates. I don't think so. Since Jesus and his listeners will go on to talk about post-Passover, post-Exodus events later in this chapter, I think John sees significance in terms of the timing. We'll talk more about that in a future lesson.
2. The Fourth Sign (vs. 5-13)
So if John is setting the scene in verses 1-4, verses 5-13 describe how that scene played out. Now... if you will acknowledge your hungers this morning, then you will hear something truly wonderful in the following account. This is what we read, beginning in verse 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?” [Why ask Philip? Maybe because, as we learned in 1:44, he was from Bethsaida, a town in that same region. But John explains a more important reason...]  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.  Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,  “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”  Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So [because you could sit down comfortably in that place] the men sat down, about five thousand in number.  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.  And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”  So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
So the “test” that Jesus gives to Philip is both practical and spiritual. But Philip can only think in terms of the practical. “Rabbi, even if we had enough money (which we don't), those funds would only provide a snack, a morsel, for this huge crowd.” In light of what had been revealed about his identity, Jesus was challenging Philip to think in new ways. Sadly, Philip failed the test.
But Andrew and a little boy bring something more useful than Philip's pessimism: (v. 9) ...there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish... Though Andrew knows this meager amount is like a drop in the bucket in terms of feeding thousands of people, he still brings it to Jesus. He's highly doubtful, but not totally dismissive. And as we go on to read, wonderfully, miraculously, these offerings are enough. How? Because Jesus is with them.
And look at the emphasis in verses 11-13: how much bread and fish did Jesus distribute? (v. 11) “...as much as they wanted”. How much did they eat? (v. 12) “...they had eaten their fill...”. How much was left over? (v. 13) “...they... filled twelve baskets” with leftover bread. Wow! Not only does Jesus do something Philip could not even conceive of, he makes sure that everyone gets far more than the “little” bit Philip suggested as remotely possible, yet still improbable.
Not only could Jesus transform water into wine (as we saw with this first of Jesus' signs), but as we read here (with this fourth sign), he could also transform a little into a lot. If the wedding guests in Cana enjoyed the best wine of their lives, the thousands of people in John 6 were 'stuffed' because the Word, through whom all things were made, he was feeding them.
3. The People's Reaction (vs. 14-15)
Now, before we think together about the importance of this sign, we can't overlook the people's reaction to this miracle. Look at verse 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!”
Word would have spread quickly through the crowd that something miraculous had happened. There were no carts loaded with supplies. There wasn't a caravan of vendors bringing food. Jesus and his apostles did not have a secret storehouse at the top of the hill. Five loaves and two fish. That's it. So what did the people conclude? “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” That's a reference to Deuteronomy 18, verses 15 and 18, where God, through Moses, promised to send the people another prophet like Moses.
Remember, it was through Moses that God accomplished both wonders and liberation. So, in light of that, it's really not surprising what John records in verse 15...
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king [i.e., a liberator from the Romans], Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
So think about the tension here: through this fourth sign the people have recognized something of the heavenly identity of Jesus... and yet, sadly, this recognition inspires nothing but earthly ambitions. But as Jesus would later tell Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (18:36), and so he withdraws from the crowd, even higher onto the mountain.
III. He Satisfies
“There are hungers deeper than a longing for food; hungers that hurt, not physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually; hungers that drive us, often in desperation, to find some kind of satisfaction.” I believe it was these hungers that God spoke about to his people hundreds of years before Jesus in Isaiah 55:1-3. Listen to the heart of God in this passage...
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” (Isaiah 55:1–3)
So how does this Old Testament invitation connect with our New Testament passage this morning? Through what is revealed here about the identity of Jesus. Brothers and sisters, friends, I believe God is speaking to us, to you, through this story this morning. For all who recognize both the hungers themselves AND the futility of our attempts to satisfy them, John reveals that Jesus Christ can miraculously and thoroughly satisfy the hunger of all who come to him. (2x) Do you believe that this morning? The words of Jesus later in this chapter confirm that Jesus wanted to use physical hunger to talk about spiritual hunger. And so...
I asked you at the outset to honestly and carefully consider two questions: “For what are you hungry this morning?” and “With what have you been feeding yourself, in light of that hunger?”
Think with me about the fact that Jesus Christ brings true hope for the hungry. Let's break this statement down: Jesus Christ can miraculously and thoroughly satisfy the hunger of all who come to him.
Clearly, John reveals that Jesus miraculously satisfies. Your struggles, your disappointment, your weariness with worldly options may tempt you to believe Jesus is simply one more earthly solution that eventually will also let you down. But God wants you to understand this morning that the satisfaction Jesus makes possible is different; that it's something otherworldly. No matter the person or circumstances, it's always miraculous, because it's always God intervening in an exceptional way. Is that how you think about the story of your life: God intervening in an exceptional way? It should be. It can be. That's the miraculous satisfaction Jesus offers us.
John also reveals in this passage that Jesus thoroughly satisfies. So many references to the abundance Jesus provided here, right? Everyone had “their fill”, and there was so much left over. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to provide you with a spiritual snack, something to simply hold you over until you die. No! As Jesus will go on to teach in John 10:10... I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. Yes, it is that good. Yes, he can fill those empty places inside you. Will we always fully experience that fullness? No, but not because of anything He withholds. It's because we'll always be learning to walk in that fullness. It's a process.
Finally, we also see here that Jesus inclusively satisfies. That simply means no one is ex-cluded. As we've seen, Jesus miraculously healed individuals. He even met the needs of a whole wedding banquet. But in case there were any doubts in terms of His limitations, John wants to put those to rest. Thousands and thousands of people came to Jesus hungry... and each and every one of them left spiritually 'stuffed'. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that encouraging? God will never run out. He is never too busy for you. You are not insignificant to him. He doesn't have better things to do. He welcomes everyone... thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, billions. The power and abundance of Jesus is more than sufficient. Amen?
But in addition to revealing the breadth and depth of God's provision in Jesus, this passage also reminds us that our hungers are deeply affected by our hardness... the hardness of heart that reveals our sinfulness before God. Remember what we saw in the final verse of this passage. Like this crowd, we, as sinners, too often respond with earthly ambitions when God offers his heavenly provision. Each of us can become like those people the Apostle Paul described in I Timothy 6:5, ...people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain (i.e., earthly gain).
This temptation, this tendency, can be subtle, so be on guard. To put it simply, it is the temptation of being fed by Jesus without being led by Jesus. It is spiritual satisfaction on our terms, rather than God's. But as we've already seen from John's Gospel, these signs were not ultimately about feeding stomachs. They were about opening eyes. That's still true today.
Was it wrong for these people to desire leadership and liberation? Of course not, but it was unconscionable for God's people to rush into this kind of plan, a plan built on their tactics and their timing. But all of us do this. Mercifully, God sent his Son to die for our warped motives and foolish choices. Shockingly, in His grace, he prepared a banquet of eternal life for hungry rebels like us. His Son died and rose again to fill you; to meet you need, to the glory of God. Jesus Christ can miraculously and thoroughly satisfy the hunger of all who come to him. Will you bring your hungers to Him this morning? Will you ask for eyes to see and courage to confess? Will you be vigilant in terms of earthly ambitions. Let's go to God now with these very prayers.