Speaker: Rev Yap Wai Keong
Sermon Title: How much can I trust Jesus?
Scripture Text: John 6:1-21
Question: How much can we really trust Jesus for everything in life?
2 circumstances where the disciples’ faith was tested:
cf John 1:3: “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
cf Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in God our Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth!”
the fragments of the bread v 12,13
B. Testing Faith in relation to nature’s happenings 6:15-21
1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 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. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 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. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
How much can we really trust Jesus for everything in life?
We can trust Jesus for eternal life by believing that He died on the cross for our sins. We believe He is the Son of God, the Creator who made heaven and earth, and the One existed before time begins for earth as John chapter one tells us. But how much do we really trust in Jesus?
Initial Miracles in John: There are 7 main miracles in John Gospel. All the miracles seek to prove that Jesus had divine power and authority as the Son of God. He was authenticating Himself as the true Messiah. At the same time, He was showing His compassion as far more important than the pharisaic laws. So John was using these miracles to highlight Jesus’ character and his status as the true Messiah.
Immediate Context: 6:1-3
When we look at the miracle in chapter 6, JESUS was seen returning to Galilee from Jerusalem. It was spring, and the Passover feast was around the corner. This was the second Passover, the first was in chapter 2. So as Jesus was confronting the religious Jews and leaders in their practice of Sabbath and other laws, Jesus fulfilled His calling by celebrating the Jewish feast, which speaks about His sacrifice.
Today’s story revolves around the Sea of Galilee, which John also calls the Sea of Tiberias. The Sea of Galilee lies in a vast inland basin 650 feet below sea level; it is thirteen miles long and six miles wide. Singapore is 31 by 17 miles. The sea is surrounded by hills and mountains that reach between 2,000 feet to over 4,000 feet. Its water fed by River Jordan. The East-west valley draws cool Mediterranean air from the west every afternoon. This collided with the heated desert air of the basin. It thus resulted in strong winds and frequent storms that swinged over the sea at the base of the eastern cliffs. This provides the background later on for the “storm” miracle of Jesus (6:16-21).
The sea was surrounded by numerous fishing villages. Villages such as Capernaum, Bethsaida and many others. They were villages flourishing in fishing trade, particularly in the northern half of the lake, where freshwater springs attract numerous fish. Jesus showed great interest in ministering in these villages. No wonder He used fishing as an illustration, and he recruited fishermen as followers. But as Jesus ministered to these areas, Jesus was always mindful about discipling His disciples. At this point they still had much to learn about Jesus’ character and the implication of His power as the Son of God.
The mountain retreat, as 6:2,3 indicate, was one of Jesus’ favorite teaching places. It was a getaway from crowd. Jesus was often crowd-wary. Crowd could be a distraction. Escaping to an isolated place provided the pasture green of learning. No need for a retreat in the Caribbean cruise where another welcoming host may await you, his name is covid19. But a retreat was useful for Jesus to have focused instructions for His disciples. I think our churches could think about small group retreat of 8 since we are still under covid restriction.
But after the retreat Jesus was back in action, using miracles intentionally to cultivate the disciples in specific lessons. So we have two stories today showing that Jesus was discipling through practical test situation The purpose? To deepen them on Who Jesus is and What He really could do. The aim is that the disciples could have complete faith in Him. So I like to show 2 circumstances where the disciples faith was tested.
A. Testing Faith in relation to human need 6:4-15
This test, as mentioned, occurred during the important Passover feast which commemorates God Almighty’s deliverance of Israel’s first born in Egypt, that is, if they would paint blood on the doorpost of their houses. Through Moses, signs and miracles were performed to deliver them, proving that God Himself is the Great I AM Who sent Moses. So likewise, Jesus showed God was about to deliver the world from the slavery of sin, and Jesus’ miracles primarily proved that God had sent His only begotten Son as the Messiah.
Verse 5 shows a crowd-wary Jesus. Many Bible scholars believe the actual number fed that day could have been 15,000—20,000 people, including woman and children as indicated in the other gospel. That’s the size of indoor stadium which sits some 15000 people. But this time Jesus was crowd-wary in the sense that he knew their need and took the opportunity to further impress the disciples on key lesson of faith. Our faith towards God is not like taking instant noodles; you only cook it for a short while and you can eat it. It takes time to develop. The progress towards higher level of faith can be a long hard journey for our soul because we were once deep in the darkness of sins and disobedience. It takes 3-1/2 years of intensive practical testing and teaching for the disciples to finally become passionate preachers of the gospel. So some believers will take much longer time to mature, especially if they are not willing to have intensive learning.
So Jesus this time instead of turning away from the crowd to have a personal retreat, turned very specifically to Philip and ask the test question: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Jesus could have sent them away but He seized the moment to give one of the greatest lessons in faith. How do I know it was a test question? Verse 6 says so! Jesus already knew the response of Philip but Jesus still went ahead to ask him because He obviously didn’t want Philip nor the rest of the disciples to miss this lesson. He wanted to impact them hard! So what is this lesson?
Philip’s response was a logical financial and mathematical approach in verse 7. Even 200 denarii, the most that they could afford at that time, would not be able to feed such a crowd. “It would take half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Philip’s calculation was based on a peasant’s wage, something like our cleaner’s wage in modern comparison. Modern calculation for 200 denarii is almost 160 US dollars. And we are talking about feeding 15000 people! So Philip was just applying realistic financial and mathematical approach. Anyone would agree with him easily!
Andrew joined in the discussion in verses 8 and 9. Andrew is the brother of Simon Peter. He was a good link, telling Peter that Jesus is the Messiah. Andrew proved himself to be a connector or a facilitator. This is what we all can do. When we do not know how to tell, we connect people to those who can tell them. In witnessing, we can either be connector or teller.
So this time Andrew connected a boy to Jesus. But his thought was also a logical one, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Although Andrew was a link man of the boy to Jesus, but he also threw in the spanner of doubt. He said, “What can 5 loaves and two fishes do for so many people?” He too used a mathematical mind-So little only for SO many! Any Ph D economist or accountant would easily confirm the impossibility. But
Watch Jesus’ approach to the whole problem.
We should realise that Jesus also could have quickly sent the crowd home as it was late in the evening as the other gospel said. The people must be hungry by now. Why still take the time to organise them in hundreds and fifties? It would take a lot of time, a lot of persuading of the hungry people, nudging them to cooperate while counting them, right? At the beginning of zoning for worship, we found it a little hard to nudge our 150 worshippers to cooperate after worship, not to crowd around but to disperse, what more 5000? So, Jesus obviously took time and effort to organise but he was organising towards the goal of learning faith. It was not a question of possible or not, but whether God had purposed to do so, to feed them with just 5 loaves and 2 fishes! The lesson?
In God’s purpose, the small can turn into something big. I have mentioned to Shalom that we need to pray and think as we need to renew our church property in 17 years’ time. Thank God that Hermon had passed the phase of considering buying the current property. Shalom would have to pray first whether we feel that it is God’s purpose for us to renew the lease. After that if we are led to, we should strongly apply faith in organising towards that purpose. With God’s practical wisdom, we should organise logically – how and what to do to achieve the renewal of lease. We are doing some calculations, how much should each member contribute over the next 17 years. But we also should organise with a clear mind that our calculation should be subjected to faith, believing that the little we have, will become big. Faith has to be the driver! I am sure Hermon had seen God’s hand in your goal to move to Henderson. But do continue in faith that He will enable you to pay off the loan. And beyond the property project, may the church see the small means that we have and apply faith to achieve even more.
B. But faith organising is only one step. Secondly, there is one indispensable spiritual exercise to tag on to faith-organising. This is the more crucial lesson: Read John 6:11 carefully: “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.”The other 3 gospels translate that he was looking up to heaven and said a blessing. Certainly, the blessing contained words of thanksgiving.
Here, the act of looking to heaven and giving thanks or blessing was an act to direct our attention not to the limited 5 loaves and 2 fishes in themselves, but to God who owns the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. The act of thanking God should complement our logical mind that although what is in our hands is small, but when it is in the big hand of the God of heaven, it will be much, much, much bigger- beyond imagination. Right from the start of John Gospel, John the writer was preparing us to pay attention to God’s absolute big ownership. 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” If we believe in a God of John 1:3, then we can accept that the story of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes was essentially about God’s absolute sovereign big ownership over even the small resources of 5 loaves and 2 fishes. And He can multiply it if He so wishes! So even for the little 5 loaves and 2 fishes, we should give thanks! The implication is that we should learn to thank God for everything we have, and that’s why we cultivate thankfulness even over a meal.
H.A. Ironside, an old time great preacher, once was in a crowded restaurant. Just as Ironside was about to begin his meal, a man approached and asked if he could join him. Ironside invited him to have a seat. Then, Ironside bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked, “Do you have a headache?” Ironside replied, “No, I don’t.” The other man asked, “Well, is there something wrong with your food?” Ironside replied, “No, I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat.” The man said, “Oh, you’re one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!”
Ironside replied, “Yes, you’re just like my dog. That’s what he does too!” That’s Ironside’s story. I know that these days, some Christian dog owners know how to teach dog to give thanks – that’s good. But do we eat, as if whatever we eat, are afforded by our own hard work? Do we buy our dresses as if we earn our right to buy whatever we like? In fact Ironside said, “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” Perhaps ask ourselves the next time we are discontent – “have I forgotten to thank God for even the little things I have?”
To be thankful is to rebuke our self-dependence and self-achieving nature. Thanking God, with authentic gratefulness is an indispensable response to a merciful God who owns even us. Jesus’ thankfulness over the 5 loaves and 2 fishes challenges our heart: do we believe in a powerful and merciful God who owns all and who can gives more? How much do we trust in Jesus? Do we have the humility to believe in the Sovereign ownership of God who alone owns our little and who alone could make them bigger?
To thank God habitually for all things is a fundamental act to show we believe in a God who holds all things in His hands. The Creator God, who existed before time, and who created the earth with abundance of food is more than able to feed. So thanking God is not a simple ritual that must be done before meal, it is far more – it is a confession of faith; it is declaring the doctrine of the Creator God. We declare like the Apostle’s Creed wisely begins, “I believe in God our Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth!” That’s why this creed which is from AD390 is so important and fundamental. It expresses the basic beliefs that we should have as Christians. The creed demands that a true believer must believe that we are committed to a God who is both a loving Father who owns and gives us all things, and He is also the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth. The implication of this first statement is that giving thanks to God, is therefore an unembarrassed declaration that our Creator Father Almighty can sovereignly but lovingly give all things small or big. So how much do we trust in our Father Creator?
Arising from this doctrinal conviction, we should offer our small money or small talents, our little earthly resources and even our frail body to God. God can turn them into something bigger than ourselves. If we believe in Jesus, our Saviour, it comes with the condition to apply our belief that our Master can use small things for His big purpose. If you think you have so little for retirement, then the One who feeds the sparrow, can multiply your little to give you sufficient and more. If you think you can’t last another month, then the One who rules over food resources, can make your 1 month’s supply to last much longer. If you have but little talents, God can use small abilities to result in something big. If Hermon thinks that she has a big loan to repay, know that God is the one who owns all the small resources within the church! Nothing is too small for God to use for His glory. But how much do you trust Jesus?
Verses 12 and 13 show that the fragments of the bread collected from the miracle filled up 12 baskets. That could be symbolic in affirming God’s covenant love for the 12 tribes of Israel, proving that He was fulfilling His covenant promise to Israel as the true undeniable Messiah, who is backed by a Sovereign Big God offering generous mercy to all. But God could often test us to see how much we believe in a generous God who transcends the physical or material logic; He is far able to provide for any human needs to fulfil His purpose. But our faith must go beyond the physical or visible dimension.
The next story shows that Jesus was also testing his disciples through practical situation, so that they could know Who He is and What He really could do. The goal is that the disciples would have complete faith in Jesus. The next story is about…
B. Testing Faith in relation to nature’s happenings 6:15-21
This happened immediately after the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. But He first got away from the crowd as shown in verse 15, showing his need for solitary in His Father’s presence. Christians should emulate Jesus too in seeking God’s presence to strengthen our faith too. After Jesus’ special time with God, Jesus was then ready to test the disciples.
Let’s Observe the props that brings up the test lesson
First in verse16, it says, “When evening came”. The growing darkness provided greater drama; the growing dimness prepares us for some gloomy or difficult happening.
Second, his disciples were being made to go down to the sea by the Master, according to Mark 6. So before Jesus went up to the mountain, he was like insisting that the disciples should went ahead to Capernaum. His insistence means that He had a purpose that the disciples should go ahead as the Sun set.
Third, we see a heightened drama. 5 factors are involved: First, it was now really dark, just now was just evening time. The dramatic tension rose. As darkness means you couldn’t see, anxieties rose among the disciples too. In the ancient day they do not have search light but a lamp of sort. So the darkness was real dark, and darkness could create a sense of threat or uncertainty. The second factor is that their powerful master had not yet come! They were already sailing and probably half-way! They expected Jesus to sail in another boat after them.
The 3rd factor arose to make the adrenalin rose higher in the disciples. verse 18 says the sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing! So the picture given was a boat that was shaking far worst than a jerky old mrt train that has no maintenance. Matthew gospel even said they were beaten by the wind, and Mark said that they were painfully making progress. This is a picture of how hard our life can be at times – rough, wavy, stormy and our faith could be beaten.
Then the fourth factor, is that the disciples had by this time rowed the boat out to about 3 to 4 miles. The lake at its broadest was only 6 miles. So they were more than half way. There was no turning back. The only way is forward!
Then the 5th factor as mentioned in Mark’s gospel is that it was the 4th watch of the night already. This was anything from 3 am to 6 am! This gives another awry stroke to a scene of very drained disciples struggling hard to row forward.
Under these 5 props, Jesus chose the most trying time to test His disciples. Verse 19 says they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat. They were expecting Jesus to come to them yet now they were frightened! The other gospel mentioned that Jesus was about to bypass them, as if to test whether they would need Him by calling out to him or would welcome him. But oddly, Mark 6:49 says that when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost! They could have been influenced by mythical beliefs of that time. If they had Netflix and watch too much horror movie, they would be scared. Matthew gospel says they cried out for fear! They were simply terrified. They just had a powerful visual of their Master distributing the limited 5 loaves and 2 fishes to 5000 and other miracles showing His power. That visual was gone in a flash. Their faith experience with Jesus was shallow so far! The threats around them and some superstitious beliefs still overpowered their shallow conviction of Jesus.
All the events had led to the testing of the sight and soundness of the disciples’ faith. It was to see how much faith instead of fear they should have. It was to see if they had trusted him enough to come to their distresses. And having come to them, whether the disciples believe that He is indeed the Creator and Master who could overcome logic and natural law, especially over the frightening waves of the sea.
But Jesus in His kindness could immediately reach out to them in their panic, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” The “I” of Jesus is the Great Jehovah God of the Old Testament. He is the “I Am” who sent fearful Moses back to the land of slavery to deliver Israel. It is that “I AM”, the Creator of heaven and earth Who alone can calm even the literal storm and waves of the geological earth which he himself has created. That is why John 1:1-3, unapologetically and without a waste of time, simply states from the beginning of John Gospel Who this Jesus is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
Jesus, the logos and the Creator God is the one who made the sea; and He existed before the sea could bash its angry waves at mankind! Therefore, He has the power, the mean and the right to stop any angry attacks on us. And so he could say, “It is I, do not be afraid!” What are you facing in life right now? An angry boss? “It is I, do not be afraid!” Are you been thrown up and down in a very turbulent relationship? “It is I, do not be afraid?” Are you afraid of your exam or career, our Creator-master says, “It is I, be not afraid!” Is Hermon anxious about shifting to Henderson? The Head of our Church says, “It is I, be not afraid.”
Jesus’ disciples failed the initial test of fighting fear and they need to see Jesus more fully in His character as the powerful logos creator who owns and rules the world. Their faith must transcend even the natural law of stepping out, on to water and still believe they could stand. Peter, in Matthew Gospel, failed in the test of faith to stand on water when he fixated on the wind and the waves. He failed to fixed His eyes on the logos creator who was from the beginning of time.
Conclusion: So the two stories tell us that the practice of our faith must go beyond the physical and nature dimension. Faith in God goes beyond logic. To follow Jesus and be Jesus’ disciples is about upsizing our faith, and faith to be called faith, must override the theoretical, practical and rational way of looking at things alone. Of course, as God leads us we should apply common wisdom and logical thinking. But logical thinking also means applying faith to be the first determinant principle in our outlook and decision making.
John Piper wrote in his devotion that in the mid-16th century the missionary Francis Xavier (1506–1552), wrote to Father Perez of Malacca Malaysia about the perils of his mission to China. He said, “The danger of all dangers would be to lose trust and confidence in the mercy of God. . . . To distrust him would be a far more terrible thing than any physical evil which all the enemies of God put together could inflict on us, for without God’s permission neither the devils nor their human ministers could hinder us in the slightest degree.” John Piper himself commented that “The greatest danger a missionary faces is not death but to distrust the mercy of God. If that danger is avoided, then all other dangers lose their sting.” When we do not apply faith or trust God in all Christian work and living, we endangered ourselves with worries and fear. The basic question is: How much do I trust Jesus?