CHRIST IS CALLING
(THE FEEDING OF FAITH AND HIS "FREE OFFER")
Alan C. Clifford, England
ONE of our Lord's most enthusiastic crowds - aroused by His miraculous power - witnessed one of His most impressive miracles: the 'feeding of the five thousand' (see John 6: 1-14). The miracle took place near the town of Bethsaida on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (see Luke 9: 10). While the other Gospel writers relate the episode, the Apostle John includes additional and significant detail plus the connected teaching Jesus gave soon after (see John 6: 22-71). Late in the day when the markets would be closing, and aware that His hearers needed their evening meal (see Luke 9: 12), Jesus challenged His disciples to deal with the difficulty. As Philip realised the scale of the problem, we learn that Christ had the whole matter in hand (see John 6: 5-7).
Apart from the large crowd and the disciples themselves, John draws attention to a 'lad' with 'five barley loaves and two small fish' (v. 9). Apparently without the least hesitation, this probably hungry young boy gave his 'packed lunch' to Jesus, little knowing how many would eventually benefit from it. While we know nothing more about the 'lad' than John indicates, the incident is worthy of reflection. We may be sure that he never forgot the day he met Jesus! His 'sacrifice' illustrates one of our Lord's sayings quoted only by Paul and not found in any Gospel: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20: 35). How different from the old pagan maxim: 'Silly the giver, lucky the receiver!'
As an antidote to cynicism, the blessing that followed the lad's generosity illustrates a yet more amazing truth. Whoever we are, what little we might have to offer in
the service of God is never wasted. On the contrary, when we yield our all to Christ, self-surrender makes us gainers not losers (see Mark 10: 28-31). Lastly, does this anonymous 'lad' not serve as a wonderful 'role model' for young people in every age?
After everyone was well satisfied, doubtless 'the lad' included, the twelve baskets of 'fragments' also made a deep impression on many. Witnessing such a miracle,
its signification in their souls clearly went beyond the satisfaction of their stomachs, for these men concluded
"This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world" (John 6: 14).
They probably had Moses' prophecy about Christ in mind (see Deuteronomy 18: 15 and Acts 7: 37). Of course, this 'prophet' (certainly not Muhammad!) was more than a prophet, as John is concerned to stress in his Gospel.
Indeed, the 'I AM' theme of John's Gospel reminds us of Christ's Deity. When the Lord declared to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:14), the truth applying to God applies to each person of the Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What is true of God the Father is true of the Lord Jesus, God the Son. God is the eternal I AM, not 'I was' or 'I will be' but the ever-present, unchanging and unchangeable God, eternally the same.
Thus God-incarnate, the Lord Jesus is 'the same, yesterday, today and forever' (Hebrews 13: 8), In other words, since only God can create, the multiplication of
food in Christ's hands tells its own truth. What was impossible to a mere man was no problem to God!
Significantly, this miracle introduces us to the first of the ten 'I AM's' of John's Gospel: "I AM the bread of life" (John 6: 35). This teaches us that we have appetites which only Christ can satisfy. During His temptation in the wilderness, Christ quoted Moses' words
"Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4: 4).
In the Sermon on the Mount, He said
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5: 6).
Thus all our confidence is to be directed towards Christ, 'the Word made flesh' (John 1: 14). We must trust Him alone in order to be eternally saved. This was Jesus' message to the crowd.
1. HUNGERING IS UNDERSTANDING
Thus Christ revealed Himself as the 'bread of heaven' following the miracle. A young boy's 'packed lunch' of five loaves and two fishes miraculously became enough for all in the hands of Christ. Because of the miracle, His popularity dramatically increased. Seeing Him as an easy source for 'fast food', the people flocked to Him. However, they were motivated more by physical than spiritual impulses. Thus the Lord said
"Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you" (John 6: 27).
In other words, He rebuked them for behaving more like cattle than human beings! Despite the miracle, the food they ate only satisfied physical not spiritual hunger. Even the Mosaic miracle of the manna in the desert did not give spiritual and eternal life (see v. 49). Only Christ could provide what He offers freely to all (see vs. 31-2).
It is clear from the people's rejection of Christ's teaching that they neither understood who He was nor felt any need for Him. When we feel true spiritual hunger- the need of sins forgiven and acceptance with God - then we understand that only Christ can meet that hunger. Only God - through His Son - can fill that God - shaped hole inside each of us!
2. FEEDING IS BELIEVING
How do we feed on Christ? How are we spiritually nourished? Many of His hearers failed to see that Christ was speaking in picture language. They thought they had to become cannibals (see v. 52)! However, Christ merely used His flesh and blood as spiritual symbols. 'Eating and drinking Him' simply means 'believing and
"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst" (v. 35).
This view is confirmed by other statements in the chapter (see vs. 29, 40, 47). Christ becomes our saving food when we come to Him in faith.
Thus with the vivid symbolism of feeding on His flesh and blood, Christ explains the great Gospel truth of John 3:16 that 'whoever believes in Him shall never perish but have everlasting life'. Blinded by their obsession with physical food, Christ's hearers interpreted Him literally. This was wrong as He carefully explained:
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (v. 63).
In other words, He is saying, "Stop thinking of literally eating me. Trusting in me and my self offering for the life of the world (see v. 51) meansyou are spiritually and eternally nourished."
3. REMEMBERING IS RECEIVING
Many Christians interpret our Lord's teaching in relation to the Last Supper (or Eucharist or Holy Communion). While the language points in this direction, we should recall that the Supper was not yet instituted. Therefore Jesus could not be explaining it in John 6! Here He is simply speaking of the perpetual feeding of faith. That said, the truth of John 6 and the meaning of the Lord's Supper are obviously linked. A proper understanding of one helps a correct understanding of the other. In neither case is physical feeding intended (as taught in the Roman Catholic Mass). Our Lord's words "This is my body" and "This is my blood" are as symbolic as His teaching in John 6. The same may be said for the symbolism of "I am the door" and "I am the vine". Christ was none of these things literally. Furthermore, an absurd literalism would mean we should drink the cup itself rather than the contents (see 1 Corinthians 11: 26), having first cut it into pieces (see Luke. 22: 17)!
At the Supper, Christ showed by the emblems of broken bread and poured out wine that His forthcoming sacrifice would bring salvation:
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1: 29).
The Supper is not a sacrifice, neither are the bread and wine actually changed into Christ's body and blood. They are symbols to remind us of His once-for-all sacrifice on Calvary's cross. However, receiving the bread and wine aids us in feeding spiritually by faith. Thus Christ's sacrifice is remembered, not repeated, on a table, not an altar; His real presence is spiritual, not physical, in the hearts of His people and not in the bread and wine.
Besides being persuaded that Christ is the only Saviour of the world, providing a universally-available salvation, we must come to Him in repentance and faith, assured that He will graciously receive us. John Calvin's comment on Jesus' words - that His blood was 'shed for many' (Mark 14::24) - is full of encouragement:
The word many does not mean a part of the world only, but the whole human race: he contrasts many with one, as if to say that he would not be Redeemer of one
man, but would meet death to deliver many from their accursed guilt... So when we come to the holy table not only should the general idea come to our mind that the
world is redeemed by the blood of Christ, but also each should reckon to himself that his own sins are covered.
"THE BRITISH MONARCHY AND THE SEE OF ROME"
Michael J.F. McCarthy
This book detailing decades of Vatican intrigue has been re-issued to coincide with Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the British Isles in 2010
Available £3.00 Postage paid from:-
Open-Bible Ministries, P.O. Box 92, Belfast BT5 7SA, Northern Ireland
Back To Archive Contents