The ProphetRev. Philip Miller | January 3, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
Like all interesting people, Jesus has layers. If we are truly to see Jesus, we need to know all of Him. By looking at the feeding of 5,000 and Jesus walking on water, Pastor Miller shows us three different layers to Jesus: one is pretty obvious, one might take a little work to see, and the third is one most people miss. But at the end of it all, we’ll see Jesus in a much deeper way and know, as Pastor Miller says, that we need more than a miracle worker or a coming prophet—we need the One who gave up His throne to come and save us.
Well, Happy New Year! And I just want to let you know that I am praying for each and every one of you, for our church and for all of our families. As we rolled over from 2020 to 2021 at midnight, I just prayed that this year would be a year where we experience God’s favor over our lives, and specifically that God would restore this year, the year that the locusts have eaten. And so we’re looking to the Lord for all of these things.
I also want to thank Pastor Larry McCarthy. Didn’t he do a great job last week? Wherever you are, let’s give him a little hand of applause. And thank you for opening God’s Word for us as the Promise Fulfiller. I also want to thank Tim and Elsa and Mike for doing an absolutely fabulous job with our Christmas concert. And I don’t know if you’ve seen, but some 55,000 views so far, and so that thing is going far and wide, to far more people than we could ever have gotten into this room, and so God is faithful.
Well, welcome back here to our series, “Loved by Jesus.” In this study of the New Testament Gospel of John we are paying particular attention to what it means to be loved by Jesus. Because we realize that our greatest value, our truest dignity, our deepest identity lies not in what we accomplish or what other people say we are, or even who we promote ourselves as, but in simply being loved by Jesus. There is, in fact, no more grounding, more transforming, more enlivening or defining reality than the love of our Jesus. And so in this series we have a chance now to get to know this Jesus better, and in getting to know Jesus, we begin to know ourselves.
Now, like all interesting people, Jesus has layers. He’s like an onion or like a parfait perhaps. It takes some effort to get to know Jesus, to peel back the layers and go back deeper to get beyond the surface and to really know Him. And this is particularly true of the passage that we’re going to look at today in John, chapter 6. We’re going to see recorded side by side two miraculous events—the feeding of the five thousand (At least that’s what we typically call this, although there were far more than five thousand people there), and the story of Jesus walking on water, two very famous miracles. And they’re not so much about what Jesus did as they are about who Jesus is. And there are multiple layers going on here.
Jesus is disclosing Himself here at three different levels. The first one is pretty obvious and easy to get. The second one, you have to do a little bit of work in digging to get to. The third one I think, frankly, most people miss, both in Jesus’ day and in ours. But if we are to truly know Jesus we have to see all of who He is here. And that’s how we’ll know ourselves as well.
So what we’re going to do this morning is, we are going to work our way through the text and then I want to show you these three different levels of self-disclosure that Jesus has for us. So grab your Bibles. We’ll be in John 6:1–21, this morning. And as we open God’s Word, let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, come teach us. Show us Jesus. Show us ourselves and change us. Set us free into this New Year we pray, Amen. Amen.
John 6:1: “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.”
So at this moment Jesus is back up in northern Israel, back in His home region of Galilee. These events are going to take place by the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. The lake was named Galilee for the region, and Tiberias for the main city built on the shoreline, on the western shore, that Herod Antipas had built there in A.D. 20. Now the other side of the lake here that they are on would be the eastern shore, across from the settlements that are there on the western side in the region we now know today as Golan Heights.
A big crowd is following Jesus because of the miraculous healings that He’s been doing. Jesus is quite the show and they want more. Even without the internet, the news seems to travel fast. Now it’s a large crowd. We learn down in verse 10 that it consists of five thousand men, not including women and children. So scholars estimate that this crowd in total would have been upwards of ten thousand, maybe fifteen thousand potentially, even twenty thousand people. There are a lot of people here so we can just imagine the scene, can’t we? Jesus is seated on the mountain, teaching His disciples, much like a rabbi would do, seated, giving instruction. Verse 16 tells us they had a boat with them, so the picture is that they went across the lake from Capernaum where Jesus is headquartered into the Golan Heights to get alone. And there they are up in the hillside by themselves, and then all of a sudden, the crowds start showing up, first maybe in boats, and then other people walking around the perimeter of this sea.
And here they come. Verse 4: John says, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” Now this is a fascinating detail. The Passover. It’s just around the corner. Of course, Passover is the festival commemorating how God had rescued the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, how He had covered their lives with the blood of the Lamb and protected them from the plague, and then Moses led them to freedom out of Egypt through the Red Sea into the wilderness, to Mount Sinai where God spoke with power from the mountainside, and as they went through the wilderness God provided manna and quail and water in the wilderness to sustain them on their journey to the Promised Land.
Now this detail here serves first as a time marker. Passover falls on the night of the first full moon after the spring equinox, and so this is in late March or early April. But what if it’s more than just a time marker here? Maybe John is bringing up Passover on purpose. Let’s hold that thought.
Now, verse 5: “Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip (This is not me. This is the disciple, by the way, here.), ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.”
Now I love this. Jesus is just sort of setting up the moment, building suspense here for what He will do next. Verse 7: “Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’” Now a denarius was a day’s wage for a blue collar worker, so roughly he’d say, “Look, if I had twenty grand, I couldn’t even buy enough bread for people to have a little bit here.”
In verse 8, “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 for so many?’”
Now, barley was a peasant’s grain. These are probably small loaves, much like pita bread, flat bread. And the fish that he has are likely tilapia from the lake that had been dry-cured in the sun, a little more than a side dish. This is a meager peasant’s meal for a small child’s appetite. That’s all Jesus has to work with. And so it begins.
Verse 10: “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.”
I love John’s colorful eyewitness detail here. He remembers lots of the green grass that was there. Mark, in his Gospel, notes that Jesus had them sit down in groups of 50 and 100 so that that way they were able to easily count the number of people here, five thousand men plus women and children.
Verse 11: “Jesus then took the loves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” (chuckles) Don’t you just love the economy of the words here? No fanfare, no embellishment. Just so understated. “When he had given thanks, he distributed the loaves and so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” (chuckles)
Now, some have pointed out that the miracle here is not so much a contravention of the natural processes as much as it is a compression of the natural processes. So, for example, God multiplies barley every year, doesn’t He? A single seed of barley goes into the ground and it becomes 25 or 30 heads of grain seeds here. Every year God multiplies fish. Tilapia can lay up to sixteen hundred eggs a year. And so what Jesus is doing here is He’s doing what God does all the time. He’s just doing it all at once in an instant. And of course, He adds all the finishing touches here, the mixing and kneading and baking, and the catching and seasoning and the curing. And so Jesus here feeds the multitudes.
Verse 12: “When they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.”
So the twelve disciples each grab a basket and fill them up with fragments from the five initial loaves, and the leftovers here are in excess of the original quantities. This is abundant, overflowing provision.
Now verse 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!’” When they saw the sign (This is John’s favorite word for miracle, a sign pointing to something beyond itself.) they said, “This is indeed the Prophet (not a prophet, the Prophet) who is to come into the world.”
Now those of you who have been with us for a while will remember back in John, chapter 1, this same comment was made. The Pharisees asked John if he was the Prophet. And if you’ll remember this, John the Baptizer, because Israel was waiting for the Prophet, not just a prophet, but the Prophet, the Prophet like Moses, the Prophet Moses prophesied would come, a new and greater Moses. And the people were to listen to Him.
And so something in this miraculous feeding signals to the people, to the crowd, the Prophet is come. He’s finally here. The times of fulfillment are at hand.
Now look what happens in verse 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.”
So there’s five thousand men here. That’s enough for a guerilla force, and they are ready to make Jesus king of Israel, but Jesus will have none of it. And off He goes into the wilderness, into the mountainside by Himself.
Now verse 16: “When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” Matthew and Mark, in their Gospels, note that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat. He sent them away. He said, “Go, sail across seven-eight miles to Capernaum. Go on your own. I’m staying behind.” The assumption was that Jesus would make His way home on foot.
Verse 18: “The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.” The Sea of Galilee sits about 600 feet below sea level and cool air from the southeast tablelands can rush in and displace the warm moist water, or air, over the lake and churn up a squall. That’s probably what happens here.
Verse 19: “When they had rowed about three or four miles (about halfway), they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.” (chuckles)
This is an amazing moment. Here they are halfway across the sea. They are in the deepest part of the water. They’re straining at their oars. The wind is buffeting. The rain is lashing. The sea is surging. Their pulses are racing, and here is some guy out for a casual evening stroll across the surface of the sea. And He’s not passing off in the distance in the clouds and the rain. No, He’s making a beeline right for them. And it says they were frightened. Well, of course they were. It’s the understatement of the century.
Verse 20: “But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’” Now this is obscured for us in English, but there’s kind of a double entendre, a pun, here. When Jesus says, “It is I,” at one level He may just be saying, “Hey, it’s me.” But the phrase is Ego eimi, “I am. I am. Do not be afraid.” And those of you who know your Bibles will know that this is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for the name of God that God gave Moses at the burning bush in the wilderness. “I AM that I AM.”
This is, I think, Jesus telling them exactly who He is. “It is me. I AM.” The Lord of all creation, who rides upon the storm, who is enthroned above the waters, who stills the sea with His Word, the great I AM.
Now, in verse 21 they realize it’s Jesus. “Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” So, no sooner have they taken Jesus into the boat (You know, “Watch your step, Jesus, over the side of the boat” here, you know) they find themselves bumping into the far shore. Immediately the boat is at the land to which they were going. Just like that (snaps fingers) they are safely home.
Now, this is quite a day in the life of Jesus, isn’t it? I mean He gets up in the morning. He has a full day of teaching. He multiplies food for the masses. He walks upon the stormy waters, and He brings His friends safely home. And while that’s impressive enough, we’ve got to remember that these accounts are written not so much to impress us at what Jesus did as they are to show us who Jesus is. And I told you in the beginning that Jesus is disclosing Himself here at three different levels, and I want to show them to you now.The first level, the first level of Jesus’ self-disclosure here is that He is the miracle worker. He’s the miracle worker. These are amazing displays of God’s authority and power through Jesus Christ, aren’t they? Not only does Jesus turn water into wine, and heal fevers at a distance, and solve decades of infirmity, Jesus has authority over all creation. He can multiply breads and fish. He can walk upon the seas. Even time and space seem to shift at His direction. Jesus is the miracle worker from God. He has authority in all of life, and it is this understanding that is beginning to dawn on the people. It’s what drew the crowds in the very beginning in verse 2, “But the large crowd was following him, because of the signs he was doing on the sick.” He’s an impressive figure. He’s an amazing man, and everyone is coming for the show, bringing their problems to Jesus that He might fix them.
And so Jesus is a miracle worker. That’s the first level. But He’s so much more than that. Don’t you see this? There were a whole lot of people that were following Jesus because He could fix their problems, because He could fill their stomachs, because He amazed their eyes. He was impressive, but they can’t stop there, you see, because they would miss out on who Jesus really is. He is a miracle worker, but He’s more than that.
The second level of understanding here is that Jesus is the coming prophet. He’s the coming prophet. See, many of these people realize that Jesus is more than just a miracle worker here. In verse 14 they say, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Moses’ prophecy is being fulfilled. That prophecy is found in Deuteronomy 18. In verses 15, 17 and 18 this is what it reads: “The Lord your God (Moses is speaking.) will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” And then later the Lord speaks. “And the Lord said to me... ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’”
So here, friends, don’t you see, is a prophet like Moses? The people realize it. Remember John said, “The Passover is at hand.” That’s intentional. And here you have another prophet, supernaturally empowered by God to do the miraculous, who is speaking words from the mountain (Hello!) and providing bread in the wilderness for the people of God. And the disciples see with even more clarity the Moses imagery here, because Jesus then crosses the sea, and leads His followers safely to the other side.
Now, what’s interesting is that given the richness of the Moses motif here, I don’t think it’s a stretch to see this in verse 21. It says, “Immediately they were at the land to which they were going.” I think this word is interesting. Why would you say they were at the land to which they were going? This is an inland sea. There’s land everywhere. He doesn’t say “shore” that they were going to, or a dock that they were going to, or a harbor that they were going to or a town that they were going to. He says “land,” and it’s evocative of the Promised Land, the land to which the people of God were going. And so all of this is packaged to show us that Jesus is the true and greater Moses, that He is the prophet that was foretold. He will finish the work that Moses never got to complete. He will bring the people into the Promised Land. And John has set this all up for us.
If you think back to the end of chapter five, this is how it ends, the very last verse before chapter six. Remember chapters are added later, the chapter divisions. This is the last verse of chapter five. John 5:46 and 47, say this: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
And so John sets this whole chapter up saying, “Moses is all about Jesus. And Jesus is the one who is coming. He’s the prophet.” Jesus is the prophet just like Moses. He’s more than a miracle worker. He’s the great and coming prophet, a new Moses for a new day. Redemption, fulfillment, hope is on the horizon.
And some of the people begin to realize what this means. “We’ve got to listen to this guy. We’ve got to obey Him. He deserves authority. He deserves the throne.” And that’s why in verse 15 they want to make Him king. “We’ve found our hero,” they say. “The days of fulfillment are at hand. Let’s get this party started. Let’s kick out those Romans. Let’s set up the kingdom. Let’s bring back the glory days.” But Jesus walks away. Jesus walks away. They just had this huge breakthrough in understanding of who Jesus is, and Jesus walks off. Why? Because there’s a whole other level to Him that they were missing.
The third level is that Jesus is the throneless king. Jesus is the throneless king. Friends, why did Jesus refuse the throne? Hmm? He’s the rightful king, isn’t He? He’s the rightful king. He is the prophet. He is the redeemer. He’s the healer. He’s the one who has authority over all of creation. Why doesn’t He take the throne? Why not? Well, the answer lies in Jesus’s deepest identity and purpose. In Mark 10:45, Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Friends, Jesus here refuses the throne because it would have short circuited the cross, and the cross was the reason He came. See, Jesus knows that if He takes the throne without first going to the cross He could never redeem us, and He could never solve our deepest spiritual problem. Because on the cross, friends, Jesus redeemed us from bondage. Not from Egypt or Rome, but from the oppression of sin and Satan and death. On the cross, Jesus became our Passover Lamb; His body broken, His blood poured out that we might be forgiven and protected. It was on the cross that Jesus comes to mediate a new covenant with God, on a new mountain, a mountain called Calvary, and give us a new heart, and a new spirit so that we could actually obey what God wanted.
It was on the cross that Jesus gave His body for us, the bread of life, provision for our famished souls, and the spiritual wilderness of our lives. It was on the cross that the Lord of all creation died, and the earth quaked, and the sun hid its face as the Lord laid down His life to save His people from their sins. It was on the cross, friends, that Jesus faced the stormy sea of God’s wrath to deliver us safely to the shores of everlasting promise. See, friends, we need more than a miracle worker. We need more than just a coming prophet. We need a throneless king. We need a God who will love us and give Himself up for us, who will trade the crown for a cross that we might be forever His. We need a Savior. We need a Lord. We need our everything in Him.
And don’t you see, friends, there are layers to Jesus, different levels at which we can understand and embrace Him? And so my question to you is at which level are you embracing Jesus? At which level are you embracing Jesus? See, some people basically embrace Jesus as a miracle worker. They say, “Well, listen, I have problems in my life, and I’m hoping that Jesus can fix them.” “I’m sick. Maybe He can heal me.” “I’m broken. Maybe He can mend me.” “I’m empty. Maybe He can fill me.” “I’m hungry. Maybe He can satisfy me.”
And for many of us, I think this is where our relationship with Jesus normally starts, with just a simple “Help, I need you, Jesus. Save me.” This is the language of salvation, and of course, Jesus is a miracle worker. This is what He does. We desperately need a miracle, and He’s a miracle worker. This is a match made in heaven. This is a good thing. He’s here to rescue us. He’s here to heal us. He’s here to save us. And He has many good gifts that He wants to give us, and so we are right to ask Him for them.
And there’s a great deal of life we discover in realizing we don’t have to do life on our own, that Jesus is here to be our Savior and rescuer. But don’t you realize that’s just the beginning of who Jesus is? That’s just the beginning.
Another group of people embrace Jesus as the coming prophet, that He has the authority to speak for God, that He is full of wisdom and life, and when He speaks, we really ought to listen to Him, that we ought to obey His every word, that He deserves to be king, to sit on the throne of our lives. And so, after following Jesus for a while, some people begin to realize, “I think Jesus is calling me to actually obey Him, to submit my life to Him, to obey, to welcome Him as Lord over my life, to obey Him in every area of who I am.” In other words, “I can’t just sit on the fence and embrace Jesus as my Savior but just live the way that I want. No, no, no, if He’s my Savior He has to be my Lord. And I need to obey Him.” And friends, this is the language of submission. And there’s a whole other level of life to be found in realizing we’re always better off when we do things Jesus’ way instead of our way.
But don’t you realize there’s more to Jesus than even that? A few people begin to realize that they need to embrace Jesus as the throneless king. For some people, the precious reality that Jesus loves them, that He died for them and gave Himself up for them becomes simply overwhelming, that the matchless and self-sacrificing love of Christ sweeps them off their feet, and there’s a kind of reckless abandon that comes with this. You hear it in the great hymns, phrases like: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” “Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”
Friends, this is the language of surrender. For some people the love of Christ becomes so compelling that they realize their life is not their own anymore. They’ve been bought with a price, and that anyone who loved them this much so as to give themselves up for them, that that person can ask them anything they want, not just on Sunday, but every day; not just over ten percent, but over a hundred percent; not just in the days of eternity, but in all their days here on Earth.
For some folks, they begin to learn to relinquish, like Jesus, the throne of their lives, to take up their cross and follow Him, and in losing their life, friends, these folks actually find it. And if you’ve ever met one of these kinds of people, you’ll realize that they really know Jesus. They really know Him deeply, truly, profoundly. Their lives are not always easy. In fact, they’re very difficult, but they’re alive. Jesus is not just their Savior, He’s their Lord. He’s their everything and so they’re alive—deeply, truly, abundantly—because they are loved by Jesus, friends. They imbibe the love of Jesus. They abide in the love of Jesus. They live and soak and live in it.
Now, how about you? Here at the beginning of 2021, at what level are you embracing Jesus? Is He, for you, a miracle worker? You bring your problems and He fixes them. He saves you from the messes in your life. Is that the level?
Or you’ve come to the point where He’s the coming prophet. He’s the one who has all the authority and the right to speak into your life. You’re submitting to Him and saying, “I’ll do it your way.”
Or has it come to the point where you see Him as the throneless King, the King who deserves the crown but traded it for a cross for you, for your life, His life in exchange for yours to the point where you say, “Listen, I can’t hold onto my life any more. I surrender. I let go. I’m yours.”
To know Jesus as He truly is, friends, is to know ourselves. To see Him is to see ourselves. To be loved by Him is to come into ourselves, loved into loveliness.
Would you bow your heads and pray with me?
Father, help us to be honest with ourselves about where we really are with Jesus. Maybe our first step is to embrace Him as Savior. Maybe right now He’s calling us to submit, or perhaps He’s calling us deeper still to a life of surrender. Help us to trust Jesus, and when He says, “I am here that they may have life, and life abundant,” that as we let go of these things, we are actually stepping into greater life in Christ, that the way to fullness is through emptiness, the way up is actually down, and the way to glory and life is through the cross. May we follow Jesus. We pray this in His beautiful name, Amen.