Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
Two Stories, One Test
The two stories we are considering this morning are among the most popular stories concerning
Jesus’s life and ministry. If you gave a written test to someone who has never read the Bible or
stepped foot in a church, and that test required them to list a few of Jesus’s miracles—I imagine
many might include these two miracles which we just read about this morning. One: He multiplied
food to feed a large crowd. Two: he walked on water. Those are seemingly well-known acts or
stories about Jesus.
Then, let’s say that test followed up with another question. Let’s say you asked them to explain what
those miracles mean. Do you think they’d pass the test? Do you think they’d even lump these two
miracles together as being part of the same story—as we just read them together this morning?
That’s a bit more difficult.
You see, we often have a rather fragmented understanding of Jesus’s ministry and miracles.
Seldomly do we take the time to step back and look at the bigger picture—“how do these miracles
relate to one another? Are they different stories with different lessons, or are they all part of one, big
story with one big lesson?”. Perhaps you can picture children coming to their parents after Sunday
school, and they have a little art project that depicts Jesus feeding the crowd. Another week they
might have a project that depicts Jesus walking on the water. The lessons they often learn are two
different lessons—different morals, or different lessons about Jesus. I think we have a tendency not
to look at the bigger picture, and consider two miracles at once.
We would do well especially this morning, with these miracles, to put these two miracles together and ask
the bigger question. “What do these miracles tell us about Jesus?”. Do you notice these miracles are
happening within 24 hours of each other? Jesus is doing something with them.
These are awesome miracles, Jesus is doing—so awesome, in fact, that the feeding of the five
thousand is the only miracle (other than Jesus’s death and resurrection) which is reported in all four
gospels. This one stood out to all four gospel writers as being necessary to write down into sacred
Scripture. Why is that? What’s so unique—so special—about Jesus multiplying food to feed 5,000
people? Then, of course, why would we take the time to dovetail off that miracle, and consider him
walking on water in the same sermon?
There’s a test for you and me, this morning. Look at verse 5, as Jesus sets the scene. Jesus goes up
onto a mountain, sits down with his disciples, it’s the time of the Passover feast, and Jesus has a
massive crowd following him. We’ll talk more about all that in a minute, but, just to help us feel the
gravity of this, look at what John’s gospel tells us in verses 5–6.
5 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?” 6 He said this to test
Jesus is looking at this whole situation, and he sees it as an opportunity to test his disciples.
What’s the test? What subject matter—or what question—is Jesus pressing upon his disciples with
these miracles? What do you think he’s trying to teach them, or evaluate them on?
If you were in Philip’s position, and Jesus asked you this question in this situation—“where are we
going to buy the bread, so that these people may eat?”, would you pass the test?
The passage speaks for itself. It doesn’t say “this is the test Jesus was presenting to his disciples”.
Exactly what he was testing them on speaks for itself, if you simply read the passage and really
consider what’s going on, here. So, I suppose that means we should dig in—and, I’ll just tell you
this. When we dig in, we’re going to see the glory of Jesus and his salvation on full display. We’re
going to see his character, his mission, his patience, his power, his person and work—it’s all very clear,
here, as Jesus is testing his disciples. “Do you know who I am, and what I’m capable of?!”, he says.
So, let’s dig in and I think this will all become much clearer to us as we uncover Jesus’s glory in this
I really don’t have much of an outline for you, other than to simply tell you we’re going to see a lot
of Jesus and his manifold glory as we walk through this together. The test, folks, is whether we’ll see
Setting the Table: The Occasion for the Meal
Let’s look at verses 1–3 real quick, and consider a few things about the occasion for this massive
meal that Jesus provided.
1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of
Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was
doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.
So strictly speaking, that’s the occasion as John presents it. “Jesus went to the other side of the Sea
of Galilee”, verse 1—meaning, this is describing a brief moment during Jesus’s ministry in Galilee. It
may surprise you to learn that this is the only time in John’s gospel when we hear of Jesus’s ministry
in Galilee. If you read the other gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—they spend a lot of time
talking about Jesus’s very prolific ministry in galilee, north of Judea. There’s good reason for that,
which we need not talk about this morning—but, for our purposes right now, I’ll simply say that
John’s gospel does not emphasize Jesus’s ministry in Galilee. In fact, this chapter—John 6—is the
only chapter that really covers Jesus’s Galilean ministry. As soon as we get into chapter 7, we’ll be in
Jerusalem and Judea for the rest of John’s gospel.
So, of all the awesome things Jesus did in Galilee—why does John single this story out as his only
Galilean story? Again, it’s that important. It’s simply too iconic—too revealing of Jesus’s glory—to
leave out of any gospel.
Setting the Scene: A Time of Perseuction
So again, verse 1—“After this, Jesus is on the other side of the Sea of Galilee”. What does John
mean by “after this”, there in verse 1? What’s going on at this point in his ministry?
In some way, you could say generically, “after the events in chapter 5, when Jesus told everyone in
Jerusalem that he was equal with the Father, that he’s Lord over the Sabbath”, as we have talked
about in the last month from chapter 5. John means that Jesus fed the 5,000 after that happened,
generically. Jesus claimed to be equal with the Father, he’s entered into a time of ministry wherein
the Jews want to kill him for blasphemy, so he’s under heat. He’s under the pressure of immanent
persecution and death threats. That’s the context of the feeding of the 5,000—during a time of
persecution and war against the Messiah.
The other gospels help us understand that this rejection in Jerusalem is part of the reason why Jesus
spent so much time in Galilee. “If you pious, zealous Jews in Jerusalem don’t want me, I’ll just go to
the north country folk where they do want me.” He went up north to the destitute, the outcasts, the
unclean up in Samaria. Remember what he says early in ministry? “Those who are well have no need
of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” That’s what
Jesus says to the religious elites of Jerusalem, in Mark 2:17. That’s why Jesus spent so much time in
It was effective, folks. As the Jews in Jerusalem were seeking to kill Jesus because they thought
themselves righteous and powerful—and, the folks in Galilee flocked to Jesus by the thousands. I
absolutely love the scene that the other gospels give us at this point in Jesus’s ministry when Jesus
feeds the 5,000. This is one of those stories where we can compare the details in Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John, and gather a real vivid picture of what’s happening at this point in Jesus’s ministry.
Mark’s gospel, I think, is most telling, when Mark tells this story of the 5,000 in Mark 6. From
Mark’s gospel, we learn that this feeding of the five thousand happened right after Jesus had sent his
twelve disciples out on their first itinerate missionary journey. That’s the journey when Jesus sent his
twelve out two by two with authority to preach his kingdom, and to cast out demons and heal the
sick—and, they weren’t sent into an easy world. He sent them out right after John the Baptist had
been beheaded. God’s people associated with the Messiah are dying, folks. Jesus is being rejected even
in his hometown of Nazareth, even by his own family members. Opposition is rising—and, John’s
gospel reminds us of the same thing. The pharisees are already seeking to kill Jesus at this point in
Jesus’s ministry, John says in chatper 5. So, that’s the territory Jesus sends his twelve disciples into.
“Go, proclaim my kingdom to those people.” This is warfare. Yet, as God would have it, the disciples
were incredibly fruitful. They healed many, they proclaimed the kingdom of Jesus, and it would seem
they returned to Jesus with a very positive report. Meanwhile, Jesus himself was surrounded by
thousands of people as he was teaching and healing many. Jesus’s ministry is moving.
Now, that’s how Mark describes the more immediate events leading up to Jesus feeding the 5,000.
John the Baptist had been beheaded, hostility is rising, the disciples got done with their first itinerate
ministry, and Jesus has been putting in long hours of public ministry in Galilee. That sounds
exhausting! What do you think Jesus and his disciples are desiring at this point? Rest. That’s what
Mark’s gospel tells us, in setting up this story of feeding the 5,000.
Setting the Scene: Exhausted from Needy, Hungry Crowds
Mark 6:31 tells us that Jesus said to his disciples who just returned from their first itinerate
missionary journey, “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while”. That’s setting
the scene for this feast, folks. Jesus is inviting his disciples to a moment of spiritual respite. Sounds,
nice, doesn’t it? In fact, Mark continues, “for many where coming and going, and they had no leisure
even to eat”.
That’s what it was like to follow Jesus in that moment. The signs, miracles, preaching—it all had
created such a demand, such a crowd, that neither Jesus nor his disciples had time to even eat. So,
Jesus said “let’s hop on a boat to go to the other side of the sea”. It’s the only way you can get away
from these people, right? You can’t’ just walk to the next town—they’ll follow you! So, hop on a
boat, get some distance, and sail to the other side of the sea. Do you know what Mark says happens
next? “Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the
towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd”.
Can you imagine that? You’re exhausted from teaching and preaching all day. Parents with littles—
you know what it’s like to be needed all day such that you can’t even eat. So, you find a room where
you can hide for a few minutes, just to eat some food in peace. Only, when you close the door,
there’s those little fingers wiggling under the door, and little knuckles knocking on the door.
Jesus couldn’t spare alone time. He couldn’t spare a moment of rest. Why? Because these people
saw the glory of Jesus, and they wanted more. They saw his healings. They saw his power, his mercy,
his love, his patience, his strength. They heard his intriguing preaching. They wanted more. Do you
know what Jesus gave them? He gave them more—even when he was clearly exhausted out of his
Remember this, the next time you need to draw extra patience and strength from the Lord because
you’ve reached your wits end. Jesus has been there—and he did give more as he sought help from
the Father and the Spirit. In fact, Mark tells us that when Jesus was greeted by the 20,000 upon
reaching shore, “he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And
he began to teach them many things, and when it grew late, his disciples came to him” to remind
them that the people need food. Jesus was on mission, folks. He didn’t stop—and, it was totally
captivating. He preached all day to these folks, and it seems that the crowd only grew as he preached
until it was time to eat.
It literally attracted a crowd the size of the city of Amsterdam. We call this the feeding of the 5,000
because the gospels all report that he fed 5,000 men. Do you think there were women and children
in the crowd? Certainly. So, almost every commentator that I read on this passage estimates that
we’re probably looking at closer to 20,000 people. If everyone in the city of Amsterdam gathered
together in one assembly—that’s what we’re talking about, here. All of those people are hungry for
more of Jesus. Folks, if the glory of Jesus is actually revealed to people—if they actually see it—do
you know what kind of effect that would have on a city? That’s what we pray for.
It’s a captivating sight, if you really think of it, especially when we remember that is happening when
all the gospels are telling us how Jesus, at this point is beginning to receive heavy opposition. The Jews,
the Nazarites in Jesus’s hometown, King Herod—they all reject Jesus. The Jews are trying to kill
him. Meanwhile, it almost seems as though Jesus had enlisted an army, and is ready to feed them.
They were ready to make him king, you know. John 6:15 in our passage makes that very clear, when
John describes how the crowd responds to the feast he put on for them. “Perceiving then that they
were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew”. These thousands of
people were ready to mount their horses and fight for Jesus in a zealous attack against Rome. Only,
Jesus had a different kingdom in mind.
Setting the Scene: The Passover Patriotism
Now again, this is all setting the scene for us. There’s one, final detail at work if we’re really going to
understand all the nuances of that day. What does John 6:4 tell us about that day, in our passage?
Look at verse 4, there in our passage. “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand”. So,
this is during a time when the annual Passover feast was at hand. This is like the days leading up to
July 4th, in our culture today. D.A. Carson says that the Passover was “a rallying point for intense,
nationalistic zeal” for Palestinian Jews during Jesus’s day.
So, here’s a crowd of 20,000 people who have followed Jesus to the other side of the sea. They’ve
been listening to him preach for the better half of a day. They’ve sought his healing and seen his
power. They’re rallying around him during the time of the Passover feast—and, they aren’t even
thinking about food. They literally followed him into the wilderness, into a rural countryside where
food wasn’t readily available. That’s why Jesus and the disciples took it upon themselves to feed this
crowd, as Jesus led these people into the wilderness where there was no food, and he preached to
them right through dinnertime. Meanwhile, it seems clear to everyone that dividing lines have been
drawn. Some people are radically against Jesus, and some people are radically for Jesus—even willing
to follow him into the desert without a thought of food until it’s too late. This is quite a scene—
quite a picture—that’s brewing for us to consider.
What’s the Test? Anticipating Jesus’s Person and Power
Hence, the test. That’s what John leans into as he tells the story, isn’t it? Verse 5, “Jesus said to
Philip, ‘where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him...”.
What’s the test, if it’s not “Philip, do you see what’s brewing here?”. All these people are gathered
around because they want miracles and teaching. They want more glorious things from Jesus. They
are seeing glorious things from Jesus—and, by the way, things that look a like like Moses and the
Exodus. If you’re not seeing that, here, you’re missing something.
Just as the Isrealites followed Moses into the wilderness, so these people followed Jesus into the
wilderness. Just as the Isrealites heard Moses speak God’s word in the wilderness from the
mountain, so these Jews have heard Jesus speak God’s word in the wilderness from a mountain
(verse 3). Just as the Israelites were delivered from Egypt on the Passover, so this crowd anticipated
Jesus would deliver them from Roman oppression. Now, the people are in the wilderness and
they’re hungry. “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat? Do you know the story,
Philip? Do you know how God reveals himself and provides for his people—perhaps, how he did it
in a very similar situation long ago?”. You’d half expect Philip to say, “Jesus, everything seems to be
adding up—ask God to send manna and quail from heaven.” That’s what you might expect, right?
Let’s just say Philip doesn’t pass the test. In fact, verses 8 and 9 reveal that none of the disciples
understand what’s going on. Look again at verses 7, 8, and 9—
7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each
of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so
That’s what they say to Jesus, in this moment. “Jesus, we don’t have enough food. This is a big
problem.” You’d almost expect them to grumble just like the Israelites in the wilderness, “why did
you bring us all out here to die?!”. The glory of God who sent bread from heaven is standingin front
of them and they don’t see it.
Time to Eat From God’s (Jesus’s) Hand
What does Jesus do? He doesn’t ask God to send food from the sky, as Moses did. What does he
do? Verse 10—
10 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. 11 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. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the
leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”
Jesus himself fed the 5000 men and their families. Jesus did it, out of his own sheer power and ability.
Yes—he gave thanks to God as any godly Jew would before a meal. Although, the emphasis here is
clear. Jesus mulitiplied the bread and fish. Jesus fed the crowd. Jesus gets the glory and honor of the
great giver of food and sustenance as only God himself ought to.
Remember, God is viciously jealous for the glory of his name. He is jealous for the glory of being
the provider and sustainer of life and blessing, especially to Israel. Do you remember what happened
when Moses tried to take the glory for himself? He got angry, struck the rock to make water pour
out of it in such a way that pointed to him rather than to God. How did God deal with Moses? Not
kindly. Here, Jesus takes the credit—he feeds with overwhelming abundance. He takes the credit,
and he buckles down on it when he preaches on this the next day, which we’ll see next week in the
second half of chapter 6. “I am the bread that came down from heaven”, Jesus says in verse 41. He’s
not simply taking the credit for this bread which he just multiplied. He’s taking the credit for the
manna that fell upon the Israelites!
He’s God, folks. He’s God, revealing the fullness and gracious, bountiful provisions of God which
God offers to those who humbly seek him. Jesus isn’t doing this miracle in Jerusalem, where all the
egg-headed, prideful religious Jews were. He was doing this in Galilee. “Those who are well have no
need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Let me ask you this: Are you a sin-sick, cursed, heavy-laden sinner in need of Jesus? Do you see and
desire Jesus, in this passage? Do you see his glory? Do you see him as the supreme benefactor who is
capable of supplying you with everything you need for life and godliness, happiness and joy,
forgiveness and life? That’s who he’s revealing himself as, here. He’s revealing himself as God. He’s
revealing himself as God who has drawn near to his people—he’s God, in the flesh, feeding hungry
people and preaching irreproachable, gracious truth to them. He’s giving them so much good in this
passage, they don’t even know what to expect when Jesus asks them what they need!
“‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him.” Philip didn’t
see it coming, because in that moment, he still hadn’t seen who Jesus is and what he’s capable of.
“No, Philip. We’re not getting this kind of bread from two hundred denarii. Yes, Andrew, your right
that five loaves and two fish aren’t enough for 20,000 people. But I am. I’m enough. I can make I
happen. Have the people sit down”.
Who is sufficient for these things? God is. Jesus is—he alone, and so it’s true for us, today. Jesus,
here, is revealing himself as God who has drawn near to his people to feed them and bless them, to
satisfy them—even as we draw near to him by faith today.
Jesus’s Manifold Glory: Patient, Committed, Fearless, Bountiful
Folks, just think of how Jesus has been revealed to us so far, in this story. We’ve seen his patience
and strength. When he’s exhausted and pressed mercilessly by the crowds, unable to escape from
them even to get a meal, he doesn’t forsake them. “A bruised reed he does not break, and a faintly
burning wick he will not quench”, Isaiah says of the coming Messiah. That’s Jesus. That’s God. He’s
patient and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love to those who will seek him.
Even when Jesus, in his humanity, grew faint and weary, he continued to faithfully draw from the
Spirit for strength to preach and put on a banquet for 20,000 people. Where does this strength, this
bounty, this patience come from? It comes from God.
He’s patient and committed. He’s on mission to reveal the bounty of his power and blessings and
kingdom. Also, we see that he’s fearless—again, this is all happening as the Jews were seeking to kill
him. What’s he do? He throws a massive banquet that will feed the city of Amsterdam.
What else do we see? He’s boundless in blessing. Folks, I truly believe Paul when he said “all the
promises of God are yes in Christ Jesus”. In Christ Jesus, folks—through his atoning blood and
sacrifice which cancels your sin, and through his righteousness in which you stand before God by
faith—every promise that God offers to you is yours. This multiplying of bread is a small picture of
that bounty. Perhaps you could remember Psalm 84:11 in reference to Jesus—“no good thing does
he withhold from those who walk uprightly”. God will not withhold any good thing from you, if you
trust in Jesus and walk uprightly before him. That’s a promise. If it’s good for you, you can bet you’ll
have it. If it’s not good for you, then God’s withholding of it is for your good. He’ll give you the
bread you need. “Give us this day our daily bread” the Lord’s prayer. “He makes me lay down in
green pastures”, Psalm 23. Do you believe that, insofar as God is blessing you perfectly and securely in
Jesus, even this morning?
He’s patient. He’s on mission to reveal his bounty and power and blessings. He’s fearless. He’s
boundless in his blessings. The test is, do you see him to desire him? What else? This whole story,
folks, is doing nothing less than revealing to us the full glory of Jesus and his provision. What else
do we learn of Jesus’s glory, here?
Jesus’s Glory Over the Waters
Some of you may be wondering when we’re going to get to Jesus walking on water, and how that
falls in line with all this. Let’s go there.
If you look at verses 14 and 15, you see the occasion that brought about Jesus walking on the water.
Once the crowd—who was already feeling patriotic around the time of Passover—finished eating,
they connected the dots. They exclaimed “This indeed is the prophet who is to come into the
world!” The were referring to Moses’s words, there, when God promised through Moses’s prophesy
that a prophet like Moses would come and speak God’s final and definitive words to the people, and
deliver them from a misery much greater than Egypt. So, these Jews who were oppressed by Rome
thought this was a great time to take hold of Jesus and make him king. Jesus, not intending to be that
kind of king, quickly withdrew. Verse 15, there, says that Jesus “withdrew again to the mountain by
himself”. Mark’s gospel helps us out and tells us that Jesus wasn’t looking for any ordinary quiet
time. He was looking to get away and be with the Father. Mark tells us that Jesus instructed his
disciples to hop in the boat and go to the other side, while he would finish dismissing the crowds
and then escape to the mountain to pray.
Isn’t that something? Remember, Jesus must have been completely exhausted at this point. He
originally went to the other side of the lake to rest. He got there, only to find the people he was
trying to escape. He preached to them until they were hungry. He fed them. He dismissed them, and
then when it was all said and done, he finally went home and kicked his feet up to watch some
Tucker Carlson. He needed some “me” time, right? Not at all. He dismissed the crowds and went to
have some concerted time in prayer. Is that how you value prayer?
One of my favorite Martin Luther quotes is when he said (and I paraphrase) “I have so much to do,
I will spend an extra three hours in prayer this morning.” I think we usually say “I have so much to
do, I don’t have time to pray.” It ought to be the exact opposite, folks. We aren’t about “getting
things done” as Christians. We’re about getting things done to God’s glory, joyfully, with his
strength, by faith. That’s what we’re after, and that comes through prayer.
Now, what’s this have to do with him walking on water? Well, folks, what was Jesus praying about?
I suppose we can only guess. Perhaps he was praying for all the people he just fed who mistook him
for the political kind of prophet who’d deliver them from Rome, rather than the much greater
prophet who’d deliver them from their sin. Maybe that’s what he was praying for. Maybe he was
praying for strength, alertness, help. He was a busy guy, after all. Although, I have my suspicion that
he was praying for the disciples. Jesus sent the disciples out onto those waters, and Jesus intentionally
stayed back. He went up on the mountain, he most likely saw the massive storm descending over the
lake. He probably orchestrated it—Mark tells us that at this point in his ministry, he had already
calmed the seas. Perhaps he stirred them up this time. Why? What’s Jesus have in mind with all this?
This whole story—from him multiplying bread to him walking on water—it’s all about Jesus
revealing himself in all of his glory. He brings the crowd out into the desert where there’s no food.
he preaches to them until they’re hungry, and in a bind. He gives them food as only God can do.
Now, he sends his disciples out into the sea, and puts them in a worse bind. They’re stranded in an
awful, life-threatening storm, without any control of their boat. What does Jesus do? He walks out
on the waters, and he speaks to them, verse 20, “It is I; do not be afraid”.
Folks, I don’t know why the ESV doesn’t just say it like it is, there. In the greek, Jesus says profound
two words that we ought not miss. “Ego eimi”—strictly meaning, “I am”. “I am”, Jesus says. “I am
who I am, do not be afraid”. If you know your Bibles, you know what that means. It’s how God
revealed his name to Moses out of the burning bush—“I am”. Jesus is the bread from heaven. He’s
the very person of God who revealed himself to Moses. He’s God who treads upon the seas and
gives food to the hungry.
Do you see the manifold glory of God—of Jesus—shining through this passage? His patience, his
boundless provision, his humility and dependence upon God the Father—and yes, even his limitless
power to stir up the seas, tread upon them, and calm them at his command. “I am, do not be
afraid”, Jesus says. What happens next? “They were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately
the boat was at the land to which they were going”. God—Jesus—carried them through according
to his manifold glory, which he had so compellingly revealed to them.
So, the next time your in a bind, will you pass the test? Will you look at your difficult circumstances
and say “I only have two hundred denarii”. “I only have five loaves and two fish”. Is that what you’ll
say? Or, will you say, as Jesus himself has revealed himself and offered himself freely to you at the
cross and through his word, “the great I AM is with me, I need not fear, he’ll bountifully provide
whatever I need. He’ll carry me through this, even if it means he raises the storms or puts me in
hunger for season.”
Folks, cast your eyes upon Jesus in all his glory and saving power. He died for your sins. He offers
fellowship and peace with God. He offers you sustenance and peace and joy—things which we’ll
continue to unpack next week in much greater detail.