Sermon series: It's a Miracle
Keeping Christ in Christianity is an ongoing challenge. This message explores the common response to problems that often leave Christ out and the proper response of seeking Christ's power to meet needs.
Yogi Berra went to his favorite pizza parlor after a game. The cook asked the all-star catcher if he wanted his pizza cut into six or eight pieces. Yogi said, "You had better make it six; I can't eat eight."
In this amazing miracle, the Lord Jesus breaks down the miracle into bite size pieces so that the disciples could understand the deeper issues of faith contained in the miracle. The feeding of the multitudes is the 4th miracle of 7 miracles performed by Jesus recorded in John's Gospel. Each miracle communicates additional truth about the Kingdom of God over and beyond Christ's power to meet physical needs. John refers to the miracles as "signs" designed to teach spiritual truth to the saints. As John reveals the miracles, we see an increase in crisis of need moving from running out of wine at a wedding and culminating with raising Lazarus from the dead. Just as the need or crisis increases, so does the miraculous power and glory of Christ increase to meet the needs.
In previous miracles Jesus demonstrated His Power, His Purpose, and His Position. Now through this miraculous meal, Jesus declares HIS PERSONAL IDENTITY as the one and only Savior of the world. This miracle provides the context for the first of the great I AM statements. Jesus said, I the Bread of Life; I am the Living Waters; I am the Door for the Sheep; I am the good Shepherd; I am the Light of the World, and I am the Resurrection and the Life; and I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
I. Reality of adversity
Yogi's pizza had six manageable pieces and this miracle can be easily divided into three major parts:
Examination of faith
Distribution of food
Explanation of following Christ.
For this message we will focus on the examination of faith.
After traveling with Jesus for almost two years of public ministry, the Lord Jesus decided to give the disciples a test. The Scripture says that Jesus asked where they could buy bread because he wanted, "to test them for he already had in mind what he was going to do" (John 6:6).
We learn from this passage and other parallel Scriptures that God leads us into trials to produce in us a greater faith. Peter wrote to the persecuted saints in Rome that grief, suffering, and trials refine their faith to be greater than gold (1 Peter 1:7). This is an important concept to understand because some in the Christian community teach that walking in obedience to God prevents trials. They propose that God's blessing leads to prosperity, never to problems. But, we discover in Scripture that it is through problems, God guides us toward greater maturity. Obstacles become opportunities for God to show Himself strong. Following Christ is not the absence of struggle; it is the abundance of strength.
Dr. Scott Peck's best selling book, The Road Less Traveled, begins with the statement, "Life is difficult." This is one of the greatest truths in life because once we see the truth we can transcend it. Peck claims that most people fail to recognize the reality of inescapable difficulty. Instead they moan about their problems expressing a faulty belief system that life should be easy. Only by working through problems can one experience meaningful life. Dr. Peck says the fear, denial, or avoidance of problems is the basis of all mental illness. (Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p. 13).
You may not rejoice in the information that life is difficult and we all suffer from mental illness to some degree. But, Dr. Peck is right on target because that is the lesson that Jesus teaches in this miracle. Through adversity we learn more about ourselves, but more importantly we learn about God and His love for us.
II. Response to problems
Illustrated in the disciple's response to the challenge are three choices that we face whenever problems arise in our lives. First many respond with Independence. Phillip answers with typical self-reliance saying that 8 months wages would not be enough. We can appreciate Phillips' quick assessment of the need and translating it into tangible financial terms, but we can't look beyond human effort to solve the problem. He is willing to work, but he knows that his best effort will fall short.
Phillip's response is very common in our personal lives and in our churches. Each New Year people make resolutions based on individual effort and personal resources. Churches set annual budgets, based on what was given last year plus a two percent "faith increase." In the presence of the King of Glory who created and sustains all things, Phillip's best answer to the Lord's question about how to handle a God-size task is to work hard.
Ignorance is the second response. By ignorance I'm referring to ignoring the problem not lack of intelligence. In Matthew's account of the story, he reveals that some of the disciples told Jesus to send the people away. Professional motivator, Zig Ziglar, says, "Denial is not a river in Egypt." Some of the disciples adopted a belief system that said, "If we don't have to look at the problem, then it is not our problem."
Marriages end in divorce because couples ignore problems until massive pain has been inflicted upon each other. Parents ignore warning signs of drug abuse hoping it will just go away. Churches avoid reaching out to the most needy and under-resourced because we want to take care of our "good families and facilities." Jesus set the example of reaching out to those with the greatest needs, but we ignore "those people" because they don't fit well in our holy huddles. Ignoring problems is one of the most destructive behavior patterns robbing individuals and churches of great blessing.
The third and best response to adversity is Interdependence, which involves working together and with God to solve problems. This response is pictured in Andrew who brings a boy and his lunch to Jesus. Andrew had listened to Jesus preach about the Kingdom of God. He had witnessed the supernatural power of God. He remembered Jesus turned water into wine. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus could do something special with five loaves and two fish!
Andrew looks beyond human ability and seeks divine intervention. It's also significant that he doesn't passively presume that God will accomplish the miracle without any human involvement. Jesus could have snapped his fingers and caused empty jars to fill with wine, but he involved the disciples by having them fill the pots with water. Jesus could make fish jump in the boat, but he told the disciples to throw the nets on the other side of the boat. The supernatural activity of God does not eliminate human involvement; it elevates our gifts, resources, and abilities to accomplish things we could never do by mere effort.
I'm convinced that Jesus is asking similar questions of His followers. What are we going to do about the multitudes that have desperate needs? What about your co-worker? A student? Your spouse? Maybe Jesus is testing you in another area of your personal life or calling. What are you going to with your gifts, talents, and resources? An ordinary boy gave an ordinary lunch to Jesus, and the Bread of Life did something EXTRA-ordinary. What can God do with your ordinary gifts?
Moses led a nation with an ordinary shepherd's staff. David killed Goliath with a simple sling. Elisha experienced a double portion of power expressed through an ordinary cloak. A manger became the baby bed for Immanuel, and God used a Roman cross as the vehicle that delivered grace to the world. Oh, child of God, what is in your lunch box?