Friday, December 08, 2017

The Vision (12..8.17): Understanding the Feeding of the Five Thousand

Image: CRBC young folk help on church leaf raking day (12.1.17)

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 6:1-14.

So the men sat down, in number about five thousand (John 6:10b).

We must beware of false interpretations and applications of this passage. Let me mention two:

First: The social gospel interpretation:

I wonder how many “social gospel” messages have been taken from this text. How many times has Christ’s question in v. 5b “Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?” been taken merely as a summons to some sort of social responsibility.

Indeed, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and to do good unto all men (cf. Gal 6:10). There is a place for mercy ministry. But we need also to remember that the same Jesus who fed the five thousand will also say, “For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (John 12:9). This same Jesus when tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread, responded, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Christ cared for the bodies of men, but he cares even more for the souls of men. Above all, he seeks his own glory and honor. I recall reading of an Indian evangelist who wrote of ministering to indigent and dying men and telling them, I have nothing physical to give you, but I can give you something of infinitely greater worth. I can tell you about the Lord Jesus Christ who can save your soul.

Second: The moralizing application:

This type of false interpretation often centers around the lad with the five loaves and the two fishes.

How many have made this account into a stewardship lesson about how if you just give what you able, then God will not only receive it but also bless you? But, surely that it not the point. The focus is not on the boy’s generosity with his loaves and fishes but on the God who multiplied these things and made them abound.

There is nothing humanistic about this narrative. It is not a guideline for our generous behavior. It is about the power and compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Toward a more accurate understanding:

If we cannot interpret this account as an example of the social gospel or as a moralistic proverb, what are we rightly to make of it?

We might meditate on the contrast between the weakness and emptiness of men and the vastness and richness of Christ. It is about how he takes the very meagre, weak, and insignificant talents, resources, and gifts we possess—things of which the best we might say, “what are these among so many?” (John 5:9)—and he uses them to manifest his own glory and to demonstrate his own power.

It is also yet another example of the patience of Christ with his own disciples, who tend to think only in humanistic and man-centered terms and neglect to remember that the one whom we worship made heaven and earth and is sovereign over all things. Let us not neglect to consider the power of Christ. When you are faced with what seems an insurmountable difficulty, an impossible challenge, an unwinnable war, remember the one who is your Master. Calvin says that this account is a confirmation of Christ’s exhortation in Matthew 6:33 to seek first his kingdom and all other things will be added to us.

Indeed, it shows how Christ faithfully provides for and feeds his people. He provides not only our daily bread, but, most importantly, he feeds us spiritually. In this age, he does this through the ordinary means of Word and Sacrament (anticipated here in the teaching of Christ and in his giving the elements of loaves and fishes). And in the age to come we will be in the glory of his presence.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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