John 6:1-15: Jesus calls into being what was earlier not there

Jesus Feeds the 5,000 (610x351)Like the crowd in today’s Gospel reading, you have many worries. They were hurting. They started to follow Jesus because they had seen Him heal the sick. Like you, they were sick and tired of being sick and tired.

And when they saw Jesus feed the crowd, when they saw Him multiply bread and feed thousands, for free, they thought: “No more worries! We’ll make Him our King. Then we’ll never again have to worry about putting food on the table” (John 6:15).

The crowds were happy to have that from Jesus. And that’s also how they got Him wrong, for they were looking to Jesus to satisfy them with what was temporary. They saw Him healing and feeding and thought that was His purpose in life.

Do you see yourself in that crowd? For how many times have you doubted God’s love because of what you didn’t have or because of illness? How often have you worried about the things of this world, even though you know Jesus said, “Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying?” (Matthew 6:27).

So, call that doubting of the Lord’s love what it is: sin. It’s a lack of trust in Jesus. Instead, look to Jesus and rejoice. Rejoice in Lent? Yes! That’s why your pastor is wearing pink today. It’s a call for you to rejoice, even in your pain and illness. Rejoice, even in the face of hardship. Rejoice, even if your heart aches within you. Rejoice, even if you’re beaten down and weary, for this fallen reality does not define you!

Oh, don’t put on a fake smile. Don’t pretend to be happy. Christ’s Church is not a place for such pretense. In His Church, we call a thing what it is. We call a sin a “sin.” We expose our sin, so we may delight in Christ’s forgiveness all the more. We admit that we are in need of eternal healing, to benefit from the healing that Jesus gives us.

A church where you have to fake it will only fail you in the end. Leave your masks at the door. If you’re unhappy and discontent, don’t pretend that it isn’t so. But you can still rejoice, which is something different and deeper than happiness.

In Christ’s Church, you can learn to rejoice, even in sadness and pain, even in the face of death itself. In Christ’s Church, you can learn to laugh in the devil’s face, to spit on the grave and say: “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Remember the crowd got it wrong that day. They looked to Jesus to put a Band-Aid on their temporary symptoms, not to heal them at the source. And so they were setting themselves up for despair. For Jesus didn’t heal just to heal. He didn’t multiply bread just to do that. The miracles Jesus did were not ends in themselves.

St. John tells us as much early in his Gospel after Jesus had turned the water of a wedding into wine. He wrote, “This was the first sign that Jesus did” (John 2:11). A sign points beyond itself to the reality it represents. Jesus’ healing and multiplying bread were signs—they pointed beyond themselves to something else. Jesus didn’t come to give that which perishes, but that which is eternal.

Earlier in John chapter 4, Jesus spoke to a woman who gone to get water at a well. He told her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13). Jesus then said, “Indeed, the water I give him will become a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Jesus came to give that which gives eternal life. That was the purpose for all He did, testifying to, and bringing into effect, that eternal reality.

Later, in John 6, Jesus speaks to the same crowd, the one He fed in our Gospel reading for today. He told them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Then Jesus showed that He was speaking of things eternal. He said, “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day” (John 6:40).

Jesus pointed the crowd to a new reality, where sinful bodies that hunger and thirst, which are never totally satisfied, will be raised on the Last Day. That’s the eternal reality that Jesus points to and fulfills in His life, death, resurrection, and return. Jesus wanted the crowd, and you, to look to Him, not somewhere else, for the eternity that only He could give.

Jesus made that point in the question He asked Philip. Jesus asked him, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus didn’t ask “how” but “where.” But Philip, getting Jesus wrong, tries to answer “how.” “We would need about a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each of them to have a piece.” We could feed the crowd if we had enough money; that’s how we could do it.

After that, we hear Andrew trying to help Philip. He trots out the five barley loaves and two fish. He calls attention to this food, shaking his head in disbelief: “Here’s a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”

So, Philip answers Jesus’ “where” with a “how”: We would need buckets of money to feed the thousands of aching bellies. And then we have Andrew, the realist, who knew that the boy’s loaves of bread and smoked fish simply weren’t enough.

The crowd got Jesus wrong that day. So did all of Jesus’ disciples, not just Andrew and Philip. But how do we know that? Jesus gave each of His disciples a real-world object lesson after He had fed the crowd, driving that point home.

How many baskets of food did the disciples have after gathering the leftovers? 12—one basket for each disciple. Each held in his hands the proof that he had didn’t look to Jesus as he should have. Jesus was the source of what they needed, not more money.

Physical healing is only good until you die. A free lunch is only good until you need your next meal. Everything of this fallen world is stamped with use-by date: it’s only good until you die. Like Jesus wanted the crowd to do, look to the eternity to which He points. Like Jesus wanted His disciples to understand, look to Him as the source for what you need.

With death looming large, it even casts a threatening shadow over the happy times we have. For death, and the separation it brings, hangs over all of human life. And so you can see how flimsy, and fleeting, our happiness in this fallen world can be. But underneath our happiness—and unhappiness—is a truer reality: it’s the joy that comes from knowing that Jesus has defeated death.

That’s what Jesus wanted the crowds to know. That’s why He healed them and fed them. He didn’t wish to heal them for only a little while. Jesus didn’t want them go home with a full belly, only to hunger for the next meal. No, Jesus wanted to teach them who He is and why He had come.

St. John beautifully points this out by mentioning a little detail, which may mean nothing to the average American today. But it would mean something for someone steeped in the Old Testament. John makes a point to mention that Jesus told the crowd to sit, not on the ground, but on the grass (John 6:10)!

Why grass? What’s the deal with that? Have you not heard that Scripture says, “The Lord… makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalms 23:1-2)? Jesus is the good shepherd who feeds His sheep by laying down His life for His sheep. He took up our suffering and carried our sorrows; by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Jesus is the one who dies, so the blood of the New Covenant may be better than the Old. He leads you beside the still waters of baptism that restores your soul. He fills your cup to overflowing. He has the Word that can multiply loaves, who can call into being what was earlier not there.

That’s why Jesus can feed you with the bread from heaven, Himself, in His body and blood. And this miraculous bread brings healing and nourishment, not for a day or a lifetime, but for eternity. For this bread is the body of the living Jesus. Jesus is eternal, and when He gives you Himself, He gives you what is eternal.

Jesus wants you to know–under the ever-changing currents of happiness, sadness, pleasure, and pain–the stronger undercurrent of His joy. You are a beloved child of God. For you, God Himself took up flesh and died. He loves you that much. And that love cannot die, for He did not stay dead but defeated death in His resurrection.

So do not lose hope, beloved. Death is not the end. It has no right to stop you from rejoicing. Oh, death does bring sadness, the deepest sadness we may experience in this world. And you should grieve the evil hold that death has on this world. But Jesus has defeated death, but not just in His death, but also in His resurrection.

Remember what Jesus told that crowd. “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day” (John 6:40). Death itself will die. Jesus proves as much in His resurrection. Oh, Jesus did die. But He also rose from the grave.

You, too, will die. But, like Jesus, you also will rise from death when He returns. That’s the hope of the salvation that you have in Christ Jesus. So rejoice, even amid your unhappiness and hardship. For Jesus gives Himself to you, not just on the cross, but also in His Supper, in His body and blood.

Like Jesus, you will physically rise from this fallen reality into a new one. “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and [He] will raise [you] up on the Last Day” (John 6:40). Amen.