Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Tested by God
Pastor Steve Schell
John 6:1-15
This amazing event is full of spiritual lessons, but here’s the one we want to focus on today: This was a test. Jesus used this event to test His disciples which means, of course, He’ll test us too. He wanted to see how they would respond, or maybe we should say, He wanted them to see how they would respond. What would they do when following God got them into a situation where the need far out weighed the resources available? Would they trust Him to provide, or would they become overwhelmed and turn back? The decision these disciples were being forced to make is the threshold to spiritual fruitfulness. God’s plans are always bigger than our resources… much bigger. And when we arrive at that moment of realization that what He’s asking us to do is impossible, we are being tested. Will we take what little we have, place it in His hands and then move forward, or will we turn back believing that what He’s asking can’t be done?

Those that pass the test move on into a miraculous dimension. What is accomplished through them over time makes no sense at all. Far more people are led to God or receive His care than that person’s limited capacity should be able to produce. The results are unexplainable but undeniable. And everyone recognizes that God must be involved, so the glory goes to Him.

Feeding the multitude (Jn 6:1-15)
If the feast mentioned in the last chapter (5:1) was Purim (Feb/Mar), then this miracle of feeding the multitude in chapter six would have taken place about a month later, since John tells us it was “near the Passover” (Mar/Apr) (v4). By this point in time all twelve disciples have been appointed (Mk 3:13-19), John the Baptist has been beheaded (Mk 6:14-29; Lk 9:1-9) and Jesus has gone to the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee, or Sea of Tiberias as it later came to be called, to rest.

This is the only one of Jesus’ major miracles that is reported by all four gospels. If we add to John’s description, details provided by Matthew (Mt 14:13-21), Mark (Mk 6:30-44 and Luke (Lk 9:10-17), a vivid picture of that wonderful event emerges. It took place after the twelve disciples had returned to report to Jesus the results of their ministries after He had sent them out two by two (Mt 10:1, 5; Mk 6:6-13; Lk 9:1-6). By then a dangerous political atmosphere had also developed. Herod Antipas had begun to suspect that Jesus was John the Baptist who had come back to life after being executed, and he had wanted to interview Jesus (Mt 14:1-2; Mk 6:14-16; Lk 9:7-9). So in order to withdraw from the crowds and move beyond Herod’s reach, Jesus led His disciples to a remote place south of the village of Bethsaida, the hometown of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Philip.

The region east of Bethsaida was outside the control of Herod Antipas and away from Jewish population centers. A flat plain extends from the hills of the Golan Heights on the east to the shore of the lake. Jesus and His disciples sailed there by boat, but the people along the shore still recognized them and ran ahead to meet them. By the time the boat arrived a large crowd was waiting on the beach. When He saw the crowd Jesus felt compassion rather than frustration. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). He understood that they were pursuing Him because they were hungry for God. The spiritual leaders who were supposed to care for them had failed (Eze 34:1-31). So instead of resting, Jesus began to teach many different topics and to heal those who were sick, and He continued throughout the day until late in the afternoon.

Finally His disciples came to Him and said in effect, “It’s getting late and there is no place nearby for such a great crowd to purchase food. Send them away to search for food in the farms and villages in the surrounding area.” Six of the disciples had grown up in Bethsaida, so they would have been very familiar with what was available in that region. Jesus’ response shocked them. He turned to Philip and said, “They don’t need to go looking for food; you give them something to eat!” (paraphrase). This command overwhelmed them all, as He knew it would. John says He already knew the miracle He was going to do but that He said this in order to test Philip. About five thousand men were present, and that number did not include all the women and children who were there (Mt 14:21). So the total size of the multitude may have reached ten to fifteen thousand individuals. Philip replied, “How could we possibly feed all these people? It would take almost twenty thousand dollars (200 days wages) to purchase enough bread to give each one no more than a small portion” (paraphrase).

But Jesus did not change His mind. He told His disciples to go out into the crowd and ask if anyone had brought some bread along with them. They began asking, but their search turned up only five small loaves of barley bread and two small cooked or pickled fish. Andrew had discovered a very young boy who volunteered what likely had been the supper his mother had sent with him. Jesus told them to bring Him the loaves and fish and then ordered the crowd to recline on the grass as if they were dining at a table. They were told to cluster in groups of fifty or one hundred. It was spring time, so the area was covered with a pleasant layer of green grass. When all were ready, Jesus took the loaves and fish, looked up to heaven and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to God and then began to break the loaves into smaller pieces. He probably put those pieces into baskets and handed them to His disciples, so they could carry them out and place them down in front of the various groups. He then did the same thing with the fish. The miracle itself must have occurred during the process of breaking off small pieces of the bread or the fish. Each loaf or each fish must have decreased in size very slowly, so slowly that baskets of bread and fish could be produced from five small loaves and two small fish. And the miracle continued long enough to allow empty baskets to be replenished until everyone had eaten as much as they wanted.

With people seated in groups of fifty or one hundred, it was easy to count the size of the crowd. Then finally when everyone was finished eating Jesus instructed His disciples to go back to each group to collect any unused pieces of bread or fish, “so that nothing may be lost (ruined, spoiled)” (Jn 6:12). He wanted nothing to be wasted, and they were able to collect twelve baskets of leftover fragments.

This miracle was undeniable. Everyone watched the entire process, and everyone ate bread and fish until they were full. There in a remote meadow on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, that crowd felt like they were the ancient people of Israel eating manna in the wilderness. Jesus had fed them as miraculously as Moses had fed their ancestors, and as they realized that fact, they remembered what Moses had promised, that someday God would send them a prophet as powerful as Moses himself (Dt 18:15-19). And rapidly a conclusion swept through the crowd: Jesus must be that Prophet!

Surely someone as powerful as Jesus could lead them to freedom from the Romans, just as Moses had led their ancestors out of bondage in Egypt. To add to this fervor, they were about to celebrate Passover (Jn 6:4), a feast that remembered the night that God delivered them from Egypt (Ex 12:1-14, 21-28). Jesus quickly recognized what was happening. A mob-like atmosphere was beginning to stir. The crowd intended to seize Him and force Him to become their king, their new Moses. So Jesus acted quickly. First He made His disciples get into their boat which was waiting by the shore and told them to row westward, back to Capernaum. Then He addressed the crowd and told them to go home, and somehow in the confusion He slipped away unseen into the nearby hills to pray. By this time it must have been growing dark, and a strong wind had begun to blow in from the west. The crowd lost track of Him, but people were stationed by the beach to see if He might try to sail away in one of the boats which had pulled up along the shore.

The leaven of the Pharisees (Mt 16:5-12; Mk 8:14-21)
So how did the disciples do after participating in this amazing miracle? Well not as positively as you might think. Listen to this conversation in a boat: Mark 8:14-21

We need to remember that shortly before this discussion occurred, Jesus had done another similar miracle among Gentiles in the Decapolis region (Mt 15:32-39; Mk 8:1-10). He had fed four thousand men plus women and children, and the disciples had collected seven baskets of left over food. So they had seen this process twice, but they were upset because they only had one loaf of bread in the boat. Their reaction really disturbed Jesus. He was worried that they were being infected by the doubt that the religious leaders were spreading to anyone who would listen. Religious people always seem to find some reason to question a miracle or attack the person who steps out in faith. In fact it is religious people, not unbelievers, who are generally our greatest opponents.

The threshold
God tested Israel in the wilderness (Nu 14:22); Jesus tested His disciples on a remote plain by the Sea of Galilee, and He’ll also test you and me. He’ll ask us to do something impossible, something that can only happen if a miracle occurs. Sadly this is the place where many people stop. They consider what God asks them to do to be unreasonable, and it is! Here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
1) Have I let my Lord lead me to a place where I haven’t the resources to do what He’s asking me to do?
2) When I arrive at that threshold, how do I respond? Do I angrily accuse God of being unreasonable, or do I turn to Him in faith and ask Him to multiply the little I have.
3) He does not magically cause resources to appear. He requires me to give to Him the little I have. He draws me into the miracle. He teaches me the key to great fruitfulness. He asks, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Have I done that?
4) The miracle happens in the expansion, the multiplication, of what I give Him. It accomplishes much more than there is any logical reason to expect. The boy had five little loaves of the cheapest kind of bread and two little pickled fish. But that didn’t matter; the miracle took place when he gave it to Jesus. Do I despise my loaves and fish? Am I ashamed to give them to Him?
5) The disciples carried the bread and fish out to the people, not Jesus. They collected the fragments. They never stood by and watched. Am I willing to serve for a long time?
6) When Jesus was finished, there was more than enough: no one was forgotten, and nothing was wasted. Do I believe He can do that again through me?

Barley loaves
It’s not insignificant that all the little boy had to offer was five small loaves of barley bread. Barley is “poor-man’s” bread. Wheat is the grain used for high-quality bread. But notice what Jesus did not do: He did not ask the boy, “Is this all you have, just barley loaves?” He didn’t criticize the quality; He appreciated the generosity. And Jesus doesn’t criticize what little we have to offer either. He’s delighted by the faith and love that brought it to Him.

Have you ever wondered what happened to those twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish? We’re not told, but my guess is that He returned them to their rightful owner. That little boy probably needed some help to carry his supper back home. Imagine his mother’s face when twelve baskets came through the door. You simply can’t out give God.

What do you and I have, no matter how meager it may seem, that others need? Don’t give it to them; give it to Jesus. The miracle is not in your generosity or mine; it’s in His hands. When He blesses and breaks and hands our gift back to us, then it becomes a miracle, and it doesn’t run out as time passes. We’re able to care for more people than we ever thought possible. But it all started at that moment when we were tested. That’s the test we have to pass.

1) What are your “loaves and fish?” What can you put into Jesus’ hands that others need?
2) Have you ever seen God do a miracle where He expanded a resource to care for more people than was physically possible? Tell us what happened. 

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