Feast on Jesus!1
One of the more familiar stories in the NT is where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people with a handful of fish and a few loaves of bread. But what’s it all really about? Is it just a wonderful miracle story about overcoming hunger in the wilderness? Continue reading . . .
One of the more familiar stories in the NT is where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people with a handful of fish and a few loaves of bread. But what’s it all really about? Is it just a wonderful miracle story about overcoming hunger in the wilderness? John Piper has helped me see that there something deeper and more spiritually profound at work. Let me explain.
(1) Miracles are wonderful. I wish we saw more. But don’t think that they will result in the instant conversion of all who witness them. In John’s gospel we are told that when the people realized what Jesus had done they wanted to “take him by force to make him king” (6:15), making it necessary for Jesus to withdraw to the mountains by himself. They saw Jesus and his miraculous power as a means to their personal and political agendas. Is that how you view him? “I’ll come to Jesus because I’m tired of being an outcast and unpopular and going without much money. I’m sure once he sees my devotion he’ll reward me with everything I need.”
(2) This story is also about learning to trust God to supply what by human measurement seems impossible. Our needs, no matter how desperate, can never outstrip God’s power or purpose to provide. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Our mistake is in thinking that luxuries are needs. Rather, we should instinctively say: “If it’s something I truly need, he will supply it. If he doesn’t supply it, then I didn’t really need it in the first place.”
(3) We see here a divine principle that appears all through Scripture: God takes what is small and insignificant and accomplishes great things. He takes Moses’ shepherd’s staff and uses it to deliver a nation out of bondage in Egypt! He supplies David with a few small stones to slay a giant! He gives Samson the jawbone of a donkey to slay an army! And he takes one boy’s pathetic little lunch to feed thousands!
(4) This story tells us much about the miracles of Jesus in general. Jesus is not like David Blaine, street magician, or like Chris Angel, mindfreak. They perform a trick and everyone goes: “Oooh! Wow! How’d you do that? Cool. Do it again. Do it again!” No. Miracles are a sign of what is to come. Miracles are a preview of coming attractions. Miracles are an appetizer of the full banquet that is to come in the new heavens and new earth.
(5) But most important of all, in this particular miracle Jesus was using a physical experience to illustrate a spiritual reality, namely, that nothing ultimately satisfies except himself! He makes this clear in his comments that are recorded for us in John 6:25-29; 6:48-51. It’s as if he says:
“Don’t you all get it yet? Yes, I was happy to feed you with physical bread because I knew you were hungry. I didn’t want you to go without anything to eat. But I had hoped that you would recognize in the process that your greatest need isn’t physical, it’s spiritual. I had hoped you would see that the real blessing isn’t bread, but me. I am the bread of life; not just physical life. You can eat the best bread on the planet and you will still, some day, die. But if you eat the bread that I give you, if you will ingest spiritually and believe in who I am and what I am doing on the cross, though you die physically you will never perish spiritually.”
The story of the feeding of the 5,000 is not ultimately about people having something to eat when they are hungry but is ultimately about Jesus himself as the bread of heaven who feeds us and fills us and satisfies us spiritually. Here is how John Piper explains it:
“One of the reasons God created bread—or created the grain and the water and yeast and fire and human intelligence to make it, . . . is so that when Jesus Christ came into the world, he would be able to use the enjoyment of bread and the nourishment of bread as an illustration of what it means to believe on him and be satisfied with him. . . . Bread exists to help us know what it is like to be satisfied in Jesus.”
Piper goes on to point out that it’s the same for water (John 4:14) and light (John 14:6) and every other good thing that God has made. Nothing exists for itself. “All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Every honorable pleasure that we have in the created world is designed by God to give us a faint taste of heaven and make us hunger for Christ. Every partial satisfaction in this life points to the perfect satisfaction in Jesus who made the world.
“The pleasures of warm bread should send our senses and our spirits to Christ as the bread of life. The pleasures of cold water when we’re hot and thirsty should send our senses and our spirits to Christ as the living water. The pleasures of light making all other natural beauties visible should send our senses and our spirits to Christ as the true light of the world” (Piper).
Jesus is telling both them and us today: “I don’t just give the bread of life. I am the bread of life!”
So when Jesus takes the little boy’s loaves and a few fish and feeds thousands he’s opening up a window on himself. He is putting on display all that he is for a spiritually famished people.
Listen closely to John 6:51 - “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” His death on the cross for sinners is the offer of bread to starving souls! Will you come and eat?
So don’t fixate on the bread and the pleasure it brings. Fixate on Jesus and the treasure that he is for you. Don’t look to the product of the miracle, but to the person. This is not a story about what Jesus can do for your stomach to prolong your physical life, but what he rejoices in doing for your soul now and evermore into eternity. Come and feast on him!