Food - Letters to the Prison
From the series - Letters to the Prison
After many weeks in John chapter 5, we’re finally about to move on. We lingered long over these verses because in them Jesus had so much to say about himself –and us. Before we leave chapter 5 behind, let’s consider one last thing. In bringing the Scriptures to testify about himself, Jesus says this:
- 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. -John 5:39-40
Jesus is clearly claiming not only that the Scriptures point to him, but that he is the very source of life. The way to have life is by coming to Jesus. So, we can find life in the Scriptures –if we follow where they lead… to Jesus. This is why we study the Bible: To know Jesus and to have the life that only he can provide.
To that end, we’re moving now into John 6. Last week we observed that Jesus made some bold and profound claims about himself. And we know that he always backs up what he says. We’re about to see how. John 6:1-13 records how Jesus feeds the “large crowd” who had followed him across the sea of Galilee to a mountain. Here are some things to note about this “crowd:”
- The crowd was following Jesus “because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick” (John 6:2b). This tells us a lot about their attitude towards Jesus and what they were expecting of him. This attitude will become even clearer a bit later. But for now, it’s enough to know that they were in it for what Jesus could do for them. They were in it for the show. And they were about to get one…
- Anyway, the crowd consists of 5,000 men (John 6:10). But that number doesn’t count the women and children who were likely there along with those men. So, the total number of people fed by Jesus in this event might be more in the 20,000 range.
- Feeding 20,000 people well enough to have “twelve baskets” of “leftovers” (John 6:12-23) requires a substantial amount of food. How substantial? Keeping in mind that it was clear from the “leftovers” that everyone ate their fill, here are some statistics from our more modern appetites:
- The average man today might consume up to 8 slices of bread in a day. So, 160,000 slices… with 28 slices per loaf of bread = 5,714 loaves of bread to feed this crowd of people. We could say that maybe the women and children wouldn’t eat quite so much. So, we could adjust this (totally not scientific) estimate down to an even 5,000 loaves. One estimate found online suggests that so many loaves might fit into one tractor-trailer truck… filling it about halfway.
- As for the fish… the average man might consume 3.9 oz. of fish with today’s modern appetites. That translates into 4,875lbs. of fish to feed this crowd with enough to have “leftovers.” Consider this statistic about transporting fish:
- Straight, flat-bed trucks with beds measuring 18–26 feet are commonly used. A four-wheel drive, one-ton pickup truck equipped with a fifth-wheel hitch and a trailer equipped with live tanks may transport 5,000-6,000 lbs of fish. - https://wkrec.ca.uky.edu/files/livehaulcatfish.pdf
So, what we have here in a remote part of 1st-century Israel, being distributed by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, to a crowd of upwards of 20,000 people, was quite literally an amount of food equivalent to a Walmart tractor-trailer truck full of bread and fish. Where did all that food come from? Scripture doesn’t say, but it’s very likely that Jesus simply created it. From nothing. There’s no explanation for it in any of the four gospels. No reports of huge wagons of food showing up… or mysterious noises or lights… nothing flashy at all, in fact. It’s a profound miracle done in a very simple and humble way. No “hocus pocus” or theatrics. Jesus simply gave thanks for the little food they had to begin with (John 6:9-11) and then handed it out… a whole truckload.
If the “crowd” was expecting some big display of Jesus’ power, they got it… but in a very quiet –and perhaps even disappointing—way. In fact, the absolutely astonishing nature of this miracle is so muted by the almost nonchalant way the gospels mention it that clearly, the miracle itself was not the central focus of these reports at all. So, this is the sort of thing we can wonder about and marvel at our whole lives. And the statistics show the magnitude of what Jesus did out there on the mountain in front of probably 20,000 people. But the act itself wasn’t the point. This will become much clearer later in the chapter.
For now, we should consider what the crowd says about this whole event –what they say about Jesus and, in turn, what that says about themselves:
- 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. -John 6:14-15
That Jesus is “The Prophet” is not necessarily new to us. We saw John the Baptist affirm this about Jesus –by denying it about himself (John 1:21). This would be the “Prophet” predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Jesus certainly is that Prophet. But the “crowd” was only affirming it based on what he had just done for them. They were in it for the free food. They saw Jesus as their ticket to freedom from Roman oppression, too. John 6:15 shows how the crowd was ready to make him king –an act that would have meant rebellion and revolution against the Roman empire who were currently ruling Israel. None of this had anything to do with the crowd’s true spiritual need or with Jesus’ purpose in coming to sacrifice himself for the sake of the eternal life of everyone who would believe in him. The crowd wanted a comfortable, earthly kingdom with free food. And they wanted it now. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and fellowship with Jesus wasn’t on their political agenda.
This sort of “crowd mentality” will creep up in at least a few more places in our study of John –with dire consequences. We still struggle with such things today. It is so easy for us as individuals to get swept up in the current trends and current social opinions and whatever all of our friends or the “majority” is doing (or seems to be doing). When that happens, we are probably no longer doing what we really want to do… or what Jesus wants us to do… we’re just following the crowd. When we give in to “popular opinion,” we are no longer ourselves. Friends, we encourage you today: No matter what everyone else is doing, cling to the truth and act accordingly! Pray that we would do the same! We love you. Keep reading John 6.