My school day mornings follow the same routine every week. The alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. I go into Matthew and Michael’s room to wake them up. Our golden retriever Luther always sleeps on Michael’s bed, and so when I open the door he greets me. Then I go downstairs and let Luther and Abigail’s little dog Noel outside.
I give the dogs a treat when they come in, and then I head to the kitchen. There I put away the clean items in the sink and empty the dishwasher. By that time Matthew and Michael have come down stairs. I pour cereal and milk for the three of us. As we are eating our breakfast Timothy and Abigail, who get up on their own, usually show up and get their breakfast. Then when breakfast is done, everyone makes their lunch – unless they are going to use their one day a week when they can get a school lunch.
Generally speaking, it all runs pretty smoothly. There are, however, two circumstances that I dread. The first is that I discover we are out of milk. Now let me tell you, we go through a lot of milk. When my brother and I were in middle school and high school, my mom rationed the milk because we drank it so fast. We were limited as to how many glasses a day we could drink. It prompted Matthew and me to call milk, “white gold.” I have suggested a similar approach in our house, but Amy says the kids are growing and milk is good for them – and how do you argue with the Nurse Practitioner about issues of health?
The problem arises when nobody mentioned that they finished the last gallon of milk. The easy answer for breakfast is gone, because who wants to eat dry cereal? Instead, dad has to figure out something else … and at 7:00 a.m. dad doesn’t want to have to figure anything out.
The other thing I dread is that we don’t have enough bread. With five people making lunches almost every day, we go through a lot of bread. If no one mentioned that this was the last loaf, it can turn out that those making sandwiches first, finish the bread and there is not enough for everyone else – a situation that is sure to enhance my morning.
In the Gospel lesson for today the disciples discover that they do not have enough bread. In fact, it’s not even close. However, Jesus takes this moment of need and uses it to perform a miracle. He works a sign at the time of the Passover. Like all the signs in John’s Gospel it points forward to Jesus’ death. And in this particular sign we learn about what Jesus means for us. We learn in our text that Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee which was also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd was following Jesus, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. John’s Gospel talks about Jesus’ miracles as “signs.” After Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding at Cana, John tells us, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” Next Jesus heals the officials son, and John says, “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” Clearly, John wants us to pay attention to the signs and what they mean.
As we hear after the first miracle at Cana, these signs called forth faith. We learn the same thing when Jesus makes his first trip to Jerusalem in the Gospel and we hear, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” This was not yet mature faith, but it was the realization that God was at work in Jesus in a unique way – a realization that prompted people to seek to hear and see more.
That is not to say that everyone who saw the signs followed Jesus in faith. Certainly, many people just wanted to see a show. Others harbored their own ideas about who Jesus might be and what he might do for them.
We learn that a large crowd of more than five thousand people had gathered on a mountain with Jesus. John tells us, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” Most likely the crowd was swelled with pilgrims who were making their way to Jerusalem. When Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw them he said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” We are told that he said this to test Philip, for he himself knew what he would do.
While Jesus asked about where they could buy bread, Philip instead focused on the cost. He answered, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” A denarius was a day’s wage. Each of the apostles would have had to work sixteen and a half days to earn that much money – and Philip is clear that it would not even begin to be enough.
John tells us that Jesus said this to test Philip. Rather obviously, Philip failed the test. But then, we do too. Philip failed to frame the question around Jesus. He failed to return the problem to Jesus – to entrust it to the Lord. So often this is where we find ourselves. There are questions and problems for which we have no answer - things for which we cannot possibly know the answer or outcome because they are not under our control. Yet instead of entrusting these things to Jesus in faith, we hang on to them and try to figure them out on our terms.
The disciples weren’t going to be able to solve the problem. They simply didn’t have the means. What they did have was laughable. Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Our Lord told the disciples to have the people sit down.
Then he took the loaves of bread, and when he had given thanks, he had them distributed to the people. He did the same with the fish. Because Jesus was in charge, the paltry source never ran out. The whole crowd was filled with bread and fish. In fact twelve baskets full of bread were left over.
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” And we learn that because Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. The people saw the sign – the miracle – and they drew conclusions about Jesus that fit with what they wanted. Most likely the proximity of the Passover fired their imagination about God providing someone who would deliver them from the Romans.
The coming Passover is an important factor in our text, but not in the way it probably influenced the crowd. Jesus’ signs – his miracles – begin to reveal his glory. It is a saving glory that will manifested at that Passover. But this saving glory will be revealed on the cross. All of the signs point to the salvation Jesus will bring through his crucifixion and resurrection. Six days before the Passover, when Jesus was just outside Jerusalem he said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John tells us, “He said this to show – literally “to sign” - by what kind of death he was going to die.
The saving glory of Jesus was revealed on the cross as he gave himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – who takes away your sin. Jesus, the Son of God, had come down from heaven in order to be lifted up on the cross for you. Buried in the tomb, on the third day his glory burst out of the darkness and revealed that he had defeated death. Jesus has defeated sin, death and the devil. He has given you life – eternal life. He has given you not just life that has no end, but life lived in fellowship with God as God intended.
In this sign that points forward to the cross, Jesus uses bread. Later in this chapter Jesus says, “my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” When those who have followed Jesus ask for this bread he replies, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Jesus gives us life. And now the one who used bread in a miracle that pointed forward to the cross, uses bread in a miracle that delivers the salvation won on the cross. Jesus the bread of life uses bread to give us life in the Sacrament of the Altar. Here he gives us his true body and blood to eat and to drink. The body given and the blood shed on the cross give us forgiveness. They sustain faith in Jesus through whom we have life.
Here in Christ’s Word and in the Sacrament of his body and blood we behold Jesus. Like the miraculous feeding in our Gospel lesson, we see Jesus’ saving glory revealed to faith. And as we behold Jesus in faith the Father’s will is fulfilled. For as Jesus says later in this chapter, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”