A sermon preached March 11, 2018 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church, Hagerstown, MD.
Scripture, Humility and Bread
I have goal this year – I’m trying to read or listen to all of the sermons in the Book of Homilies. What are those, you ask? Well, they were a series of sermons begun at the time of Reformation in England to encourage and ensure good preaching. The first one just happens to be titled, “A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture.” To my surprise, it turned out to be quite good! I was struck by two things – and yes, I’m going somewhere with this. First I was struck by the advice given on how we are to come to Holy Scripture. Do you know what it said? It said that the key attitude we must have when we come to Scripture is humility. We need more of that today. Second, I was struck by a quote it references from St. Augustine, which goes like this: “The knowledge of holy Scripture, is a great, large, and a high place, but the door is very low, so that the high & arrogant man cannot run in: but he must stoop low, and humble himself, that he shall enter into it. Presumption and arrogancy is the mother of all error.”
That is particularly helpful as we come to today’s passage. Sadly, some balk at the idea that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. The classic liberal Protestant approach to this passage is to, ironically, make the passage about the boy. A kid decided to share and, (aw!) so did everyone else. That’s ironic because a passage which is about “the all-providing and good king who would not be king” (to quote John Piper) now becomes about us!
As we begin this morning, can I begin by encouraging you to claim and reclaim your confidence in Holy Scripture? To claim and reclaim the fact that we are given as Christians a supernatural worldview. A worldview which says, as Lewis put it, that miracles are not alien to nature, no nature was designed to receive them. And what’s more, we should remember this: we as Christians hold that it is foundational that God became man, lived among us, died for us, and rose bodily on the third day. If we accept that as true, why would we have any problem accepting a lesser miracle? Why would we have any problem believing that the Creator who joined himself to his creation could not multiply it as he pleased?
So there you have it: maintain your confidence in Holy Scripture and the worldview it gives you. Don’t cave.
I want us to have a bit of a dual focus this morning: first on the miracle itself and then it’s aftermath. Let’s dig in!
With Jesus, Little Becomes More Than Enough
When we look at the miracle itself, there is a great word of comfort for Jesus’ church. In the face of overwhelming need, the disciple can either look to his resources or to the infinite resources of Jesus. I wonder if we can relate Phillip and Andrew’s reaction here. We hear this called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand” but that does not do it justice – there may have been up to twenty thousand people present that day. Can you blame the disciples? “Phillip, where can we get some bread?” Jesus asks. Phillip replies – “I figured it up – for 8 months wages, they all get a bite.” Andrew’s contribution was to bring a boy to Jesus who had five barley loaves (poor folks bread) and salted fish. The disciples’ response is little more than an exercise in effectively Jesus why they can’t do what he has asked them to do. They are looking at the problem on a human level and saying to Jesus – “here’s what we’ve got.” What does Jesus do? He takes the bread. It’s his hands that matter – it’s his presence that multiples the loaves. With Jesus, little becomes more than enough. In fact, the leftovers of the miracle are more than they started with in the first place. The life of every disciple can be summed up as simply placing all that we are and all that we have into the hands of Jesus for him to use. He multiples the loaves.
So it is as the Body of Christ, too. We’re preparing to go out into our community and minister the Gospel at the Quad State Beer Festival. How should we prepare? Simply by asking the Lord to multiple the loaves. To raise the spiritually dead to life. To take our meager offering and change lives for eternity as we step out in faith.
I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Ephesian church: “20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Jesus Will Not Be Our Mascot (Sometimes More Bread = Less Disciples)
But there’s a whole other part to this miracle. If you read the whole of John chapter 6, this episode did not end well. By the end of the chapter, Jesus has less disciples than at the start. Why? I mean, this is Moses-and-the-desert-miraculous-feeding-part-two kind of stuff and yet folks somehow missed the point. What did they miss? Well they missed that the abundance of the feeding pointed to the greatness of Jesus. Jesus says to them, “I am the bread of life – do you seek me because you understand that?” Verse 41 summarizes by saying, “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Verse 66 concludes by telling us, “66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
There are a couple very, very important lessons here we have to grasp this morning. First, we have to realize that a desire for the miraculous is not always a sign of spiritual health. The crowd was following Jesus because of what he did, not who he was. There is a massive difference between receiving bread from Jesus and receiving him as bread. Can we pause here together again during Lent and contemplate the difference between the two?
On a related note, the second lesson here is that we can never make Jesus our mascot. Verse 15 tells us that after the feeding, “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.” At this point, Jesus was merely useful to the crowd. It’s telling that John reminds us that this happened at Passover. I’ve never thought about it like this, but D.A. Carson says that by this point, the Jewish feast of Passover was akin to our Fourth of July. It was a nationalistic feast of liberation. And so, the crowd wants him to be their king, driving out the Romans! But Jesus will have none of it, because he’s not our mascot. In his book Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Matthew Richard tells us what the mascot Jesus looks like, “[Mascot Jesus] always cheers and always supports…he will never bring about any pain for the individual. He won’t boo; he is a loyal fan, who never gets angry or upset with his followers…he will never call for repentance.” But as chapter 6 goes one, we hear the real Jesus confronting the crowd with their need – their need for him. And they don’t like it. But this confrontation is borne out of love. Instead of taking up their offer, he’s meeting their true need. As Edmund Clowney writes, “Jesus would go to Jerusalem not to wield the spear and bring the judgement, but to receive the spear thrust and bear the judgment.” He would go up to be the bread of God. May we know him as such. Amen.
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.