Scripture: 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. 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?” 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 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. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:1-15 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Friday’s Daily Focus, having established authority to judge and arbitrate sentencing in alignment with the Father’s will, Jesus presents evidence that his testimony is true (following the Levitical law that requires two or more witnesses). Citing John the Baptist as a human witness, Jesus contends that the works his Father has given him speak louder to his sonship. Noting that these religious leaders have never heard or seen God, Jesus asserts the word does not abide in them because they do not believe Jesus came from God nor speaks his divine words. So they better pay closer attention to the messianic writings of their patriarch Moses, for his prophecies all point to Jesus.
Today’s devotion marks the return of Jesus and his disciples to Galilee. Upon arrival, they hike a steep hill rising from the sea with a crowd following them who seek healing and wellness from Jesus. Feeling compassion toward them, Jesus asks Philip about where to buy bread to feed the masses, but only to test him. Shocked by Jesus’ presumed lack of understanding, Philip addresses the infeasibility of such a notion. At this point, Peter pipes up and says a little boy has five barley loaves and two fish but also reasons about the futility of feeding such a large number of people.
With both men having failed the test, Jesus instructs them to organize the crowd (about five thousand men and their families). He then takes the bread, gives thanks, and miraculously multiplies and distributes it, along with the fish, to those seated. And when all had had their fill, Jesus ordered his disciples to gather the leftovers, which filled twelve baskets. Seeing all that transpired, the people excitedly declare that Jesus is the anticipated Prophet. But Jesus, discerning that they would try to anoint him as their king, alone retreats to another mountainous location.
Of note, there are no mountains in Galilee (expanding the northeastern and northern shores of the Sea of Galilee). Residents like John referred to its steep hills as mountains. The region of Galilee is part of a volcanic basin formed by a massive eruption well before its settlement by humans.
Takeaway: This is the only miracle mentioned in all four Gospels (Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17) and thus carries much weight of importance in the minds of Jesus’ disciples. The focal point of John’s recollection of this event is two-fold, for only John tells us the people aggressively tried to promote Jesus as king of Israel. And only John explains that Jesus intentionally tested his disciples. While the other Gospellers indicated that the disciples approached Jesus about the problem, John recalls in greater detail that Jesus first addressed Philip. It appears Jesus used this miraculous event as a teaching point to prepare his disciples to turn toward God when faced with a seemingly impossible task. We see a similar scenario when Jesus’ disciples failed to remove an unclean spirit that inflicted a boy with seizures (Mark 9:14-21). Where his disciples despaired, Jesus encouraged them to rethink that all things are possible with God for the one who believes (v.23).
Regarding the crowd’s misguided attempt to crown Jesus, John alone explains why Jesus retreated to a remote hillside after feeding the five thousand. Having a clear vision of his ministry, Jesus would not succumb to the sin of pride and welcome the people’s adoration and homage, for he knew it would only disrupt and potentially derail his mission. So Jesus makes the right call to retreat alone and spend time with his Father to refresh his spirit and refocus on the next step. Thus, he directs his disciples to press on without him, where they will face another test at sea (tomorrow’s Daily Focus).
Our takeaway? While this devotion focuses on the above two points, there are a couple of other takeaways. See my March 13 Daily Focus from Matthew’s account of feeding the five thousand regarding Christ being real food for the spiritually hungry and my March 24 Daily Focus from Matthew on feeding the four thousand regarding our call to provide full-orbed care.
As for being tested, no one enjoys failing, but we learn some of our best lessons through our failures. Luke tells us that Philip stepped out in faith and proclaimed the Gospel in Samaria (one of the less hospitable regions to evangelize). Resultantly, many unclean spirits fled from those who heard his Gospel proclamation (Acts 8:4-7). So where he failed with the boy tormented by seizures, he later would succeed. And Philip would obey an angel of the Lord and speed across the Judean countryside to witness Christ’s Gospel to the Ethiopian official of Candice, only to be teleported to Azotus to preach there and on to Caesarea to do the same (Acts 8:26-40). Similarly, where he failed to comprehend how to feed the masses in Galilee, he would succeed with Christ’s spiritual food after Pentecost. And the same applies to us. But, like Philip, we must remain humble and teachable, refusing to wallow in the self-pity of failure.
Regarding knowing when to retreat, when others seek to herald or promote us for what we have done for them, we would do well to pause, pray, seek the counsel of godly friends, and keep praying before accepting any offer. While it may be an excellent opportunity for some, it may not be God’s best for us or, even worse, steer us away from God. So if we want to thrive in feeding a lost and hurting world Christ’s spiritual food, we must remain teachable, humble, and focused on glorifying God rather than ourselves.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who fed us with the spiritual food of his gracious Gospel at the incalculable price of his mortal life. And we thank you for his disciples, who learned their lessons and avoided the trap of self-glorification to ensure the well-being of future generations. So would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit to glean the good from our failures and humbly serve your people without seeking recognition or reward so we might glorify you and your Son and grow your kingdom? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling