Sapphire Sky

February 13, 2015

How do you handle interruptions?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 1:35 am

What do you do when your plans are destroyed? How do you react when your day is thrown into chaos?

How do we handle it when God sends an opportunity in the form of a major interruption?

I have been studying the life of Jesus Christ, trying to understand more about his life and his ministry. The recent study in John 5 demonstrates that Jesus was fully God.  He was fully equal to God the Father in his works, in giving life, and in authority. There are no secrets between the Father and the Son.

But Jesus was also fully human. He did not exercise his divine power unless he was directed by the Spirit. Jesus had to grow and learn. He got tired. He felt pain, hunger, and loneliness like the rest of us.

Jesus would also make plans which would get interrupted. One of the best examples of this interruption comes in the beginning of John 6.

Jesus has had an extensive ministry in Galilee for about a year and a half.  He has led his disciples, taught the people, and healed many.  His popularity has grown rapidly, to the point that he often cannot even enter towns because of the crowds that follow him.

But along with his popularity, the opposition to Jesus has also grown dramatically.  The Pharisees in the synagogues were not pleased when Jesus challenged their rules about the Sabbath.  As shown in John 5, their anger further turns to murderous rage when Jesus tells them that he is God. Their unbelief has become so entrenched that they interpret Jesus’ miracles as a work of Satan (Matthew 12:22-32, Mark 3:22-30).

And so Jesus’ ministry in Galilee comes to a close.  Jesus has gone across Galilee proclaiming that he is the Messiah.  He even sent out his disciples to make sure that every town and village has heard.  His popularity continues to grow, but so does the opposition and unbelief.  And now the word reaches Jesus that John the Baptist has been murdered by King Herod, who is now looking for him.  Added to his opposition is now political intrigue.

One of the final events of Jesus’ northern ministry happens on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, yet what is most striking is how much of this event is unplanned.  Jesus takes his disciples away to a desolate place, away from the opposition and intrigue, so that they can get some time of rest and teaching.

But as is often the case, plans are interrupted by providence. A huge crowd of over 20,000 people followed them on foot and were waiting for them as they dock the boat [6].  Jesus saw the crowd and responded with compassion. These people were lost and needed a shepherd, and so he taught them and healed the sick.

 Jesus spends the entire day among the people until the evening (about 3:00 pm), when he is interrupted by the disciples.  It is getting close to dinner time and no one had brought provisions.  Jesus instructs the disciples to not stop the teaching, and adds, “you give them something to eat”.  Going further, he asks Philip where they could buy enough bread for these people. Philip responds with their hopeless situation.  Even if they could come up with 8 months salary, they still would not even have a single bite for everyone!

Andrew located one boy who had brought five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they for such a crowd? Jesus had the disciples sit everyone down while he took the loaves, gave thanks, and broke them.  He then began to distribute the broken pieces until everyone had as much as they wanted.  The disciples gathered up the leftovers, filling up 12 bushel baskets!

There was no mistaking this miracle.  A crowd of over 20,000 people had witnessed and took part in the miracle.  The crowd’s reaction also confirms the miracle, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14).

This is a very well known Bible story.  Many Sunday School lessons are about the “story of the five loaves and the two fish”.  Other than the Resurrection, this is the only other miracle described in all four Gospel accounts.  It is easy to become so familiar with the story that we miss what is happening, but here are a couple important points to remember:

  • This account is not about a boy who was willing to give his lunch away.  Nor is this account (directly) about any one of Jesus’ disciples, including Philip and Andrew.  This is about Jesus.  This is written so that may know that Jesus is the Messiah, and that by believing we may have life in his name (John 20:30-31). 
  • Jesus is still God, even when there is an interruption, and even when there is a crisis.  God is not surprised by interruptions. 
  • Jesus instructed his disciples, “You give them something to eat”.  He provided the food but they were to be the ones to give it to the people. [5]

 

Previous post: Jesus says that he is God


John 6:1-14
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. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 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?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 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?” 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. 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. And 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. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 

Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Mark 6:30-44
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

Luke 9:10-17
On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.


 

Matthew: Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.

Matthew gives the first reason why Jesus decided to go away.  The phrase, “when Jesus heard this” (Matthew 14:13), refers to the previous section (Matthew 14:1-12).  Jesus’ growing popularity had reached the attention of Herod, the local ruler.  Herod had imprisoned and murdered John the Baptist, and he thought that Jesus was John’s reincarnation.  Jesus goes away in order to escape the superstitions and political intrigue that are starting about him.  Note that the political intrigue by Herod is also echoed by Mark and Luke (Mark 6:14-29, Luke 9:7-9) and is presented immediately before this scene where Jesus goes away.

 

Mark: The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

Luke: On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida.

Mark and Luke give the other reason why Jesus decided to go away.  Jesus had sent out the twelve apostles to preach throughout Galilee that God’s kingdom was imminent, and that people need to repent (Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:1-6).  After this intense time of preaching, Jesus wanted to get away from the crowd with his closest disciples for a time of rest and private instruction.

Only Luke mentions the destination of Bethsaida.  The town of Bethsaida is on the Northeastern side of the Sea of Galilee, close to where the Jordan River flows into the lake.  It would have been about a 9 mile journey by land from Capernaum.  This location, on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee was also near the pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem for the impending Passover.

 

John: After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.

John’s gospel account does not supply the reason for Jesus going away.  Also, the “After this” mentioned here (John 6:1) does not give an indication of how much time has elapsed.  The time between John 5 and John 6 was at least 6 months.

 

John: Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

John tells us when this happened.  Two years have passed since the passover mentioned in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (John 2:13-17).  It will be exactly one more year until the final passover, where Jesus will be crucified and will rise again (John 12:1).

Even more important than the chronology is the attitude of the people at Passover time.  A large multitude of the Jews would be traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast.  The people would be mobilized and filled with hopes for the Messiah who would come to deliver them, just as Moses had delivered them from Egypt.  When Jesus provided food for them, they would immediately remember how God fed the Israelites in the desert under Moses’ leadership.

The notice that the Passover feast was near gives a chronological indicator, but its primary purpose is theological. The people were filled with messianic hope and were thinking of Moses’ deliverance. [1]

 

Matthew: But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Mark: Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Luke: When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.

John: And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him,

Jesus’ fame and popularity was at such a level that he could not get away by himself.  As soon as the people saw Jesus and his disciples leaving by boat, they followed along the shore.  As Mark points out, some of the people got there ahead of Jesus and his disciples.  John points out the reason for their following: they were fascinated by his miracles and were drawn to his healing.

It is important to note Jesus’ reaction to the crowds.  His plans for a quiet time of rest and teaching were upset, yet Jesus responded with compassion.  He saw how lost the people are and he taught them about the kingdom of God, healing the sick.

 

Matthew: Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

Mark: And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

Luke: Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

The Jews recognized two evenings: the first at about 3:00 pm and the other at sundown. The first evening was drawing on as Jesus was still teaching.  (The second evening comes later in Matthew 14:23).  The disciples were worried about this large crowd since they were in a desolate place without any food.  They want Jesus to end the teaching time and send the people away so that they can find food.  Jesus’ reaction astonished them when he responded with, “You give them something to eat”.

 

Mark: And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

John: Jesus said to Philip, “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. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”

 200 denarii was equivalent to about 8 months wages. Philip’s estimate of 200 denarii seems to be rhetorical: 200 denarii was much more money than they had, yet it would not be nearly enough to feed this crowd.

 Mark’s account shows that Jesus is leading the disciples by asking how many loaves they have, and telling them to go and see.

We do not know why Jesus directed this question to Philip, but Philip appears to be the focus of testing for this question.  Philip may have been from that area of Bethsaida [2], but there is a more plausible explanation.  Philip appears to want to carefully measure the facts (see also Introduction to Jesus).  Jesus leads Philip to the edge of his practical means in order to show him the impossible.

 Note also that Jesus is not surprised by what is to take place.  He knows what he is going to do.

 

Matthew: They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

Mark: And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

Luke: They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.”

John: 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?”

John’s account is the most descriptive at this point.  It is from John’s account that we learn that the five loaves were barley loaves and that the food was from a boy in the crowd.  We also learn from John’s account that Andrew was the one to bring the boy to Jesus.

Barley was the bread of the poor man. The fish here (literally, “little fish”, opsarion, ὀψάριον) would be equivalent to sardines.  So when confronted with this huge crowd, the only food available was 5 poor biscuits and 2 sardines.

“When we read that these five were barley-loaves, we learn that, no doubt from voluntary choice, the fare of the Lord and of His followers was the poorest.” – Alfred Edersheim [3]

 

Matthew: Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Mark: Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.

Luke: And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.

John: Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down. 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.

 Jesus commanded that the people be seated in orderly rows on the green grass.  The green grass indicates it was the spring rainy season, before the hot summer would have turned the grass dry and brown. [4]  The orderly rows were a practical necessity (needed for 12 disciples to feed a crowd of over 20,000 people) but they also helped to confirm the miracle.  This was not some rumor born out of chaos but was a well-ordered event.

Note that Jesus gave a prayer of blessing and thanks before the miracle.  The language of the verbs all show one-time action: “he took the loaves”, “he looked”, “he blessed”, “he broke the loaves”.  However, the act of giving was repeated, “he kept giving them to the disciples”.  Jesus broke the loaves once and repeatedly gave them out.

 The significance of this miracle cannot be understated.  This is the only miracle, other than the resurrection, which is recorded in all four gospel accounts.  The rabbis were teaching that when the Messiah would come, he would duplicate the miracle of the manna.  The people were getting ready to celebrate the Passover, where their thoughts would be on Moses and their deliverer.  Jesus was showing the disciples that they can feed the people through him, even when it was impossible.  Jesus was also showing the people that he can meet their needs if they only received him.

 This miracle is also reminiscent of a miracle of Elisha where food was multiplied (2 Kings 4:42-44).

 

Matthew: And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.

Mark: And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.

Luke: And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

John: And 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. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

 The miracle is emphasized by the fact that there are leftovers.  There were twelve baskets (about twelve bushels) of leftovers that the disciples gathered up.  All of the people were satisfied, with more food to spare.

This miracle of feeding convinced the people that Jesus must be the Messiah.  Unfortunately, they had no interest in submitting to him.  Instead, they wanted to force him to be their king.  We see through the rest of John 6 that the people are quick to abandon Jesus as soon as he challenges them.

 

Matthew: And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Mark: And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

Luke: For there were about five thousand men.

John: about five thousand in number.

The scope of the miracle was about 5,000 men, plus the women and children.  This would have been over 20,000 people! 


[1] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John 6, p. 293.

[2] John 1:44 tells that Philip, Andrew, and Peter were from Bethsaida.  However, there appears to be (at least) two communities named Bethsaida. Bethsaida literally means “Fisher Town”, which would be a common name among the fishing villages along the lake. The location of the miracle, also known as Bethsaida-Julius, was on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 9:10). The other Bethsaida was their destination after leaving the scene of the miracle and was near Capernaum on the western side of the lake (Mark 6:45).  The most likely explanation is that these men were from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee, near Capernaum.

[3] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book III, “The Ascent”, Chapter 29.

[4] John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible Notes, John 6

[5] Jesus instructed the disciples to give them something to eat when they saw that the large crowd had no provisions.  The best understanding of Jesus’ command is that he is about to provide the food and they are to give it to the people.  This understanding is based on what Jesus finally did, as well as the response to the following alternate interpretations:

  • One thought is  that Jesus is instructing the disciples to perform the miracle and create bread themselves. Mark 6:7-13 and Luke 9:1-6 both tell how Jesus sent out the apostles and empowered them to work miracles.  However, the need to feed 20,000 people was beyond healing the sick.  Also there is no indication that the disciples performed miracles once they were back with the master.  The purpose of their miracles was to validate that they truly represented Jesus, and this was not needed when they were with him.
  • Another thought is that Jesus is talking about spiritual food, as in John 4:10. Jesus also uses a spiritual context for bread later on in John 6:27.  However, any discussions of spiritual bread at this point would not resolve the immediate problem of the large crowd needing food.  Jesus was working with the crowd that day meeting both their spiritual needs (teaching them) and their physical needs (healing them).

[6] The population of 20,000 is a rough estimate.  We know from Matthew’s account that the crowd consisted of 5,000 men, plus women and children.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Previous post: How do you handle interruptions? […]

    Pingback by How do you respond to crisis? | Sapphire Sky — March 1, 2015 @ 4:33 am


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