Arthur E. Gove
Reading: John 6:1-14
THERE are seven sign-miracles in the main body of John’s Gospel. This, being the fourth, is the central wonder and is itself a seven-fold wonder, as I hope now to demonstrate. Firstly, however, it should be noted that the Lord has given special emphasis to this miracle by causing it to be recorded in all four Gospels. In this it stands alone. From the first John has told us that the purpose of Christ’s miracles was to manifest His glory (2:11) so that we may well expect that [4/5] this central and unique sign is calculated to give us a special revelation of the glory of the One whose name is indeed Wonderful.
One of the special points stressed by John is that from the first Jesus Himself knew what He would do (v.6). It does not say He knew what He would try to do! His purposes are not experiments; even before we see them they are established facts. While Philip was working away at his arithmetic and Andrew arguing about the inadequacy of their resources, Jesus already knew just what would fully meet the situation. He knows it all. The Gospel has already revealed this. He knew Nathanael’s heart-searchings (1:48), He knew what was in man (2:25) and He knew all about the woman of Samaria (4:29). He knew about the people’s hunger, He knew about the lad, and most of all, He knew just how to meet human need — theirs and ours!
The Lord Jesus has the answer for all our needs in Himself. He is the Sympathiser, “moved with compassion” (Matthew 14:14). He is the Supplier , “He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were sat down” (John 6:11). He is the Sustainer, “lest they faint by the way” (Mark 8:3). He is the Satisfier, “they did all eat and were filled” (Matthew 14:20). How wonderful it is to know Him! How sad is the plight of those who try to face life’s problems without Him!
In a sense this story is full of miracles. I have discovered at least seven wonders indicated by it. Perhaps if we consider them we can have some fuller realisation of His glory and so enter into new depths of faith in Him.
1. It was wonderful that among all those people there was just one lad with something to eat.
We are never given his name. We do not know where he came from. Until John wrote this last Gospel we were not even informed of his existence. But there he was, a miraculous provision of God’s providence; the right lad in the right place at the right time. He could so easily have wandered away. He might well have eaten his meagre lunch long before this. The fact that he was there just when he was needed represents a powerful instance of the overruling providence of God.
What was true of that boy is true also of us. God takes a detailed interest in our lives, takes care of everything in them, and loves to have us just in the right place at the right time. From one point of view we are of little or no importance, but this lad teaches us that we can have a key part in the glorifying of Christ among men. So easily we kick at our circumstances, question why things happen to us as they do, and fail to realise what great things the Lord can do with our littleness. To the believer there is no such thing as chance. In a thousand ways God orders even the details of his life. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
2. It was wonderful that among that crowd of over five thousand, this lad was noticed by one of the disciples.
With his little lunch of five biscuits and two sardines, the boy can have had no idea that the Lord wanted to use him, and even if he had, how could he be singled out from such a huge crowd of people? This is the problem which arises in many cases where those concerned wish to serve the Lord. Nobody pays attention to them; they are lost in the crowd, unnoticed and never given a chance. No, this is never the case. Our wonderful Lord will know just where to find us if we quietly commit our cause to Him. There is no need for self-advertisement in the work of Christ. There is no fear of a man with a gift, however small, being left in ineffective obscurity. If we are ready for the Lord when He needs us, then He will know just how to bring us to the front when His time comes.
Many would-be servants of Christ expend so much energy and suffer so much strain because they have not yet learned the secret of this lad. Others may not know about us, but the Lord does. They may not know where to find us, but the Lord’s knowledge of us is perfect. It was really a miracle that this boy was singled out by one of those unbelieving disciples and brought forward even by an apostle who had no confidence that his contribution would be of any use. This was a miracle within the miracle.
3. It was wonderful that the lad was willing to give what he had to a complete stranger.
Wasn’t the boy hungry, like the rest of them? It was his, anyway, and he only just had enough for himself. It is inconceivable that he knew that he would get back more than he gave, let alone provide a banquet for the great crowd milling around him. He had no idea what Jesus would do, and yet he handed over everything to Him. This was another miracle.
Happily it is a miracle which is being repeated again and again, even in our day. When a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, or some other professional person gives up a lucrative post and easy circumstances to serve Christ in missionary work, that is a miracle. When people forego the joys of home and family to carry the Gospel to some remote place in the earth, that is a miracle. There was once a rather cynical business man who met a nurse whose life was being devoted to caring for the needy lepers on a Mission compound and assured her that he would not do such work for a million dollars. ‘Neither would I’, replied the nurse, ‘but I gladly do it for love of Jesus Christ’. It is a wonder of God’s grace when gifts and talents are laid at the foot of the Master for His use. “Bring them hither to me” said the Saviour (Matthew 14:18) and He still says the same today, and says it to us all, even if our contribution seems pitifully small.
4. It was wonderful that the Lord Jesus would take what the lad brought into His own holy hands.
We are left in no doubt as to the status of Him who took the humble loaves and fishes into His hands. He was the Creator who made all things “and without him was not anything made that was made” (1:3). He who is so great was ready to take up something so very small and to hold it in His hands and use it in His service. He has no need of puny man’s assistance. Enough for Him to speak, and it is done. Yet He is so gracious that He uses those wonderful hands of His to accept and hold what is offered to Him, even though as in this case, it is offered feebly and with no real faith.
Until they got into His hands, they were only diminutive loaves and insignificant fishes. Once they were in His hands, they became an expression of divine omnipotence. This is a miracle indeed, as the lad must have discovered to his great joy. No amount of effort on his part could nave exploited that small offering of his, and no efforts that we can make will provide God with what He wants. Our wisdom is to commit everything into those gracious and capable hands of His and allow Him to work the transformation which will bring glory to His name, even through us.
5. It was wonderful that the Lord gave thanks to God for what the lad brought.
What the Lord Jesus held in His hands was a very meagre and insignificant quantity of food — five biscuits and two sardines — and yet He deliberately offered thanks to the Father for it. This was no formal “grace before meals”, since the Lord Jesus never did anything from mere formality. It must, then, have been genuine thanksgiving to the Father. This is wonderful. But how more wonderful that He should take up any of us and thank the Father for us, yet this is what He does. What we are in ourselves can be no motive for praises, for even if we did all that we should we would still be unprofitable servants; so it must be for what He knows He can make of us. “He Himself knew what He would do”, so He could rightly offer thanks for the material in His hands, humble though it was.
Does it not melt your heart, when you think of the Lord Jesus taking up your mean and unworthy life and offering thanks to the Father for it? Is this not one of the greatest wonders of all — the wonder of God’s abounding grace to unworthy sinners? How many lives that would have been despised by any normal standards have been taken up in those wonderful hands of the Saviour and made to bring glory to God and blessings to thousands, just as the little loaves and fishes were taken up and blessed long ago. The Lord Jesus will never give thanks to the Father for our feeble efforts to work for Him, but if we humbly commit ourselves into His hands and respond to the government of His Spirit, then we too may bring glory to the Father as He works in and through us.
6. It was wonderful that Jesus multiplied what was given to Him.
There is no limit to what the Lord can do with even the smallest and most insignificant of gifts. All the Gospels stress the large numbers of those who enjoyed the blessings of that action. Think of it. When the disciples came up to the Lord Jesus they saw the tiny quantity of food in His hands, and yet each was able to receive enough to carry away, and then as he began to distribute it the work of multiplication continued in this miraculous way, so that the supply never ran out. Just how and when the actual multiplying took place we do not know; all that we know is that those who serve as intermediaries between the sufficient Saviour and needy men need never worry about the supply running out.
Many years ago I began a ministry in a church and soon found myself challenged as to how I could keep it up. I had no reserve of messages and my gifts were limited. Would I soon have to [6/7] confess that I had nothing more to give and pass on to another church? Well, I am thankful to say that from the first I learned this thrilling lesson of the wonderful way in which the Lord can multiply week after week and year after year, with no diminution of His fullness. The person who is in living touch with Christ will never run out of resources, as I have found from 1952 right up till today.
Those who minister the Word should never think that they have to hold something in reserve for the next week. The Lord Jesus is always at hand with His abiding ability to go on multiplying according to the need. What we attempt to store up may get stale, like the hoarded manna which bred worms, and that will not provide suitable food for hungry hearts. No, we only need to keep in close touch with the Saviour and we will discover that He still has the power to work the miracle of multiplying fresh food for the eater. His name is Wonderful!
7. It was wonderful that there was so much left over at the end.
Every now and then some would-be expositor of the Bible will assure us that the miracle of the five thousand was simply brought about by the fact that the crowd shared their own provisions among themselves. By this act of sharing — so they tell us — all was equalled out and everybody had enough. The simple answer to that is to pose the question: “Where, then, did the twelve baskets over come from?” The particular point which the Lord stressed when recalling the two miracles was just this. “Do you not remember that after the five thousand had been fed, you yourselves gathered up twelve baskets of food, and that when the four thousand were fed, your share of what remained was seven hampers?”, He enquired of His worried disciples (Matthew 16:9-10). This was a further wonder. The wonder of the margin over after all had been satisfied.
This was not just a tidying-up exercise, picking up the litter of crumbs and fishbones, but the deliberate collection of excess food: “Gather up the broken pieces which remain over, that nothing be lost” (John 6:12). This shows that these were unused portions which could be profitably used. As such they remind us that there is always a super-abundance when things are put into the Lord’s hands. All of us will surely testify that we have found it so. There is a wonderful surplus of inexhaustible resources of grace in Christ. The important point is that we must be sure to gather it up. His crowning wonder is the miracle of abundant grace. Let us be careful to gather it up that nothing be lost.