This is the third in a series of messages on the sea stories of Jesus.
If speaking of the sea, it seems right to include its useful contents.
There are 18 different species of fish indigenous to the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret as it is now known. Of these, the three most important varieties are sardines, biny (carp) and musht, a variety of tilapia. The sardines are small, but preserve well when dry and salted. The fish in the boy’s lunch in John 6:9 were likely sardines.
Unfortunately, over-fishing and drought have taken their toll on the once-abundant fishery that over the centuries was a major part of the economy of the region. In 2010, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture announced the prohibition of fishing in the lake until the fish supply recovers.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him. Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus 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 (John 6: 5-11).
An outing on a beautiful spring day to a grassy hillside above a blue lake– it’s hard to believe that more people in the crowd of 5,000 men plus their spouses and children haven’t packed a lunch.
God bless the mothers of loving and generous spirit who send out their children with a nourishing lunch and something to share with a friend. They know the lunch they pack may save the day. One such lunch of five hearth-backed barley loaves and two dried sardines will do this through the creative hands of Jesus.
It is all good. Even while the barley was growing in the fields, the fish were swimming in the sea. On a moonlit night, a seine net scooped up the schooling sardines that were off-loaded the next morning to the drying racks beside the sea. The little fish, rich in protein and omega-3 oils, were dipped in a salty brine and laid out on willow racks to dry out in the light desert air under a hot sun.
The barley ripened under the same sun, watered by the spring rains a season before. It was harvested in the mellow September haze. Perhaps the mother had gleaned a bit of what was left in the fields to feed her family in the winter to come.
A rhythmic beating on the threshing floor separated the golden corn from the stems and husks. The raw corn was ground fine and the flour poured into linen bags or jars. Mixed with water, olive oil, a pinch of salt and a bit of yeast, the flour baked into dense nutritious loaves with crackling crusts. Ripe in the fields or baked into loaves, barley maintains the same golden-hue.
The bread and the fish are elemental food produced by the grace of season, water, earth, sun and honest labor. This is sustenance for people who eat to live, not live to eat — farmers, fishermen, herders, carpenters and millers and their families. Salt is a precious treasure to them and honey a rare delicacy. Fruits and vegetables are consumed only in the season of harvest, unless they can be dried and preserved.
God’s provision is readily apparent in such a diet. Humility and thankfulness are common attitudes among those who grow and catch their own food. Farmers and fishermen understand that what results from their labors are fruits, not products. Their best effort isn’t enough. They are grateful for the divine help of rain and sun, wind and current, good seed and stout legs and a strong back.
Jesus, the carpenter, knew these people–knew their gratitude for what they had and knew their hunger for more. He had come to be that “more” for them. Jesus wanted to know if there was room in the disciples’ thinking for Jesus as the answer to the people’s hunger.
“Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked Philip. Philip was a bit of a sophisticate among the disciples. He had a Greek name. He probably spoke Greek (John 12:20-22).
If Philip thought about Jesus’ question, he would have to concede that it could not be answered in human terms. Here they were in the middle of nowhere with no city of size nearby with the necessary mills and bakeries to bake the bread necessary to feed a crowd of that size. It was unrealistic to send people away to the surrounding villages and countryside to fend for themselves as some proposed in seeking to shift responsibility for a logistical nightmare (Luke 9:12).
“Jesus already knew what he was going to do.” Do you trust this statement? To consider it is to plumb the depths of creation itself.
What Jesus is going to do is feed the people. They are hungry. He is gracious and faithful to his Father. He has the capacity to do what it takes. The sermon illustrations are for others to draw and argue about later on.
His test of Philip is not a true or false quiz or a multiple choice exam. It isn’t one of those trick questions with which the priests and scribes badger Jesus. It isn’t a set-up after which Jesus can say “Gotcha! Wrong answer, Philip. You go to the back of the class until you learn your lesson” — the kind of misconception of God’s reaction that keeps far too many people away from prayer.
Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread to see if Philip was of one mind with him on the need to rely on the providence of the heavenly Father to “give us this day our daily bread” in the face of overwhelming, impossible need.
Philip saw a problem that available human resources could not answer. Jesus saw an opportunity for his Father to bless and provide. “Ask . . . seek . . . knock” he tells us, not “calculate” (Matt 7:7-8) We are in trouble when we attribute more power to the problem confronting us than to our God.
The test is a means of lifting Philip’s eyes off the people and their impossible need and on to the Lord. This is the key to ministry. When our eyes are on the people with their seemingly infinite needs, the inadequacy of our finite wisdom and strength shows. We grow anxious and despair.
Jesus wants us to know the possibility of God who never stops thinking of our welfare. God says –
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb.
Even these may forget,
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
but I will not forget you.
I have always been blessed that Jesus arranged the people in groups before feeding them. Jesus doesn’t see the blur of the crowd. He sees people who need fellowship and intimacy as much as they need food.
Out of a mother’s love for her child he feeds everyone. A good mother never meets a stranger. “Sit right down and I’ll find something for you to eat.” That’s a mother’s instinct, but before that it’s God’s instinct.
The need for food and drink is a reminder to lift your eyes from the empty bank account and the bare cupboard and pray, “Lord, I am yours. What do you have in mind for your child?”
For the Lord’s part –
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
“Jesus already knew what he was going to do” back when he filled the sea with water and stocked it with fish and laid out the field and seeded it. Even before that he knew about you and what you would need. He determined then to meet your need “according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us” (Eph 1:3-6).
There are those in this world who refuse to believe that such love exists. In rage, lust and greed, they deface the image of our heavenly Father and lie about him even as they exploit us. His love holds fast against them and will not fail us through all eternity.
I hope that it brings a smile to your face and makes you glad to know that your heavenly Father’s intentions towards you are loving and always have been. The beauty and bounty of the sea, and its wind and its waves as well, are one of the ways he makes good on those intentions. Two fish and five loaves offer proof of this.
But the challenge of the sea to faith is in what it takes to cross the water. We will take that up in the next message.
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.