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Today we are studying John 6:1-15. Please open your Bibles to John 6, or follow along on your phone with the Faithlife Bible app.
The passage today is commonly referred to as the Feeding of the Five Thousand. This is the only miracle other than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that is in all four of the gospels. The four gospels were accounts of Jesus life and ministry written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Let’s read John’s account together.
John 6:1–15 NIV
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Prayer

Background

What was happening?

John, and the other gospel writers give a lot of background information about Jesus’ sign of feeding the multitude of people who came out to see Him.
Prior to this event, Jesus had sent his disciples out in pairs to spread the news that the Kingdom of God was near. He gave them power to do miracles and to preach the good news in Israel.
A disciple is one who follows a teacher, a learner or pupil. When the teacher sends out some of his disciples/pupils, they are called apostles, or ‘sent-ones’.
So, Jesus sent out his apostles, and he also continued to minister.
It was also at this time that John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod.
Then, when the disciples returned, and as Mark tells us,
Mark 6:30–31 NIV
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Where was this?

Luke tells us the name of the location.
Luke 9:10 NIV
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida,
Where was this? Let’s look at a map.
Cities: Bethsaida, Capernaum, Gennesaret
What is interesting is that while we get the sense from all of the gospel writers that they crossed the lake to the other side before the feeding of the 5000, Luke specifically says they crossed over to Bethsaida, Mark says that after the feeding of the 5000+ (5000 men besides women and children), the disciples set out for Bethsaida.
Mark 6:45 NIV
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
The other gospel writers record that they ended up in Gennesaret.
What is going on? Let’s look at the map again.
Cities: Bethsaida, Capernaum, Gennesaret
There were likely two villages called Bethsaida. Literally, Bethsaida is “House of fishing.” Or, what we might say in our everyday English, Fishing Hole. It was common for little villages to build up where the fisherman would find good places to fish.
Luke, writing to a Greek audience, would have likely referred to the town of Bethsaida with which the Greek/Roman audience would have been more familiar on the northeast shore of Galilee. This town was rebuilt by the tetrarch (governing official of the area) Philip a little further north on a hill, and named Julias, to honor Julia the daughter of Caesar Augustus, but the village remained.
Mark, writing with Peter, would have likely referred to Bethsaida as the small village near Capernaum, in the region of Gennesaret, where Peter, Andrew and Philip were from.
This would also explain why John in his gospel, on another occasion, in John 12:21 refers more specifically to Bethsaida in Galilee.
This confusion due to the name Bethsaida is why some of your bibles may indicate a traditionally held site of the feeding of the 5000 on the northwest shore of Galilee.
Why go into this. Because I want you to know we can trust the Bible. Some people use things like this to say the Bible is not true. It has contradictions, like when Luke says they went to Bethsaida where the 5000 were fed, and Mark says they left that area where the 5000 were fed and went to Bethsaida.
Is it a contradiction? Did to they go to Bethsaida for the feeding or after the feeding? Yes. Two Bethsaidas.
Does that really happen? Well, yes. Exeter, PA. Years ago, I bought a car in Exeter, PA, and it was in Berks county. When I moved up here I heard people talk about Exeter, and I pictured the Exeter I knew. However, they were referring to Exeter just below Pittston. Two Exeters. It still happens today that there are multiple places with the same name, even in the same state!
The point: We can trust the Bible. It is accurate! It is without error when the authors wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Anyway, let’s get back to the story. Jesus went across the sea to Bethsaida to get away with His disciples.
However, the people followed.
John 6:2 NIV
and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.

When did this happen?

John 6:3–4 NIV
Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
This is now the second of three Passovers that John mentions. The first was in John 2, when Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple.
This is just before the second.
The third is when Jesus goes to Jerusalem, is betrayed and crucified.
So this was happening about a year before Jesus would be crucified.
This time of year is significant for what Jesus was about to do.
Why is this significant? What were the people thinking about every Spring as Passover approached? Remember the Passover. What was the Passover?
The Passover was how God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and spared them because of the blood of the lamb.
What happened after the Passover? They immediately left Egypt and travelled through the wilderness, where food and water were scarce.
What happened shortly after the Passover when they had no food? God gave them bread from heaven--Manna--to eat every day until they went into the promised land over forty years later.
So, the people are already remembering what God had done for them so long ago, bringing them out of Egypt and caring for them for forty years, providing food and water.
Now, just like their ancestors before them, they are in the middle of nowhere with a huge crowd of people and no food.
John writes,
John 6:5–6 NIV
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
I love that verse. He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Jesus was not surprised by this turn of events. He knew it was going to happen. He is God!
Jesus was not in a panic asking the disciples what they thought to get an idea of what to do.
Jesus knew what He was going to do.
Knowing what He was going to do, He asked Philip where to get the food, as a test.
Why would he do that? Why would he test Philip?

Why does God Test us?

Do you know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of being in school and getting a pre-test. Did you ever get a pre-test? A pre-test is when the teacher gives you a test on material they have not even taught yet.
Why in the world would you give a pre-test? To see the students fail? Is that the point?
Why give a pre-test? Teachers do not give pre-tests to see students fail. They give pre-tests to help the students think about what they need to learn, and to see what exactly needs to be taught to get them to the point they will know the material.
I wonder if it was to get Philip to really think about it? I wonder if it was to get Philip to think about what he needed to learn? I wonder if it was to help Philip really learn how powerful Jesus is by first realizing that it would be impossible for him to get enough food for all these people? I wonder if the pre-test was to help Philip see some area in his life where he needed to grow?
As I considered this, verses came to mind--a verses that talk about God providing for the Israelites as they travelled through the wilderness after leaving Egypt.
They are in Deuteronomy 8. Please turn there. I want to read this whole passage first so we have in mind the whole context, and then I want to go back and look for answers to the question, “Why God tests us?”
Deuteronomy 8:1–20 NIV
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.
Now, let’s go back and look specifically for answers to our questions.
Why does God test us?

To know their heart

Deuteronomy 8:2 NIV
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
Will they trust God? Or, will they be fearful?
Will they rely on God? Or, will they rely on themselves or others?
Will they love God? Or, will they forget Him?
Will they obey God out of love and honor for Him? Or, will they turn their backs on Him?
It is interesting how God provided for the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. He performed great wonders to bring them out.
Exodus 14 - they were terrified when Pharoah’s army approached, but God delivered them through the sea miraculously.
Exodus 15:22-25 - They needed water, grumbled against Moses, and God provided.
Exodus 16 - They needed food, and grumbled. God provided Manna and quail.
Exodus 17 - They needed water again… did they say in their hearts, “God provided water before, should we ask Him to do it again?” Did they say in their hearts, “God is provided food in the middle of the wilderness for us everyday. He can provide water when we need it.” No, they grumbled and complained and were getting close to stoning Moses to death for bringing them into the desert. Yet, God provided water from the rock.
Numbers 11:1-3 - They complained about how hard they had it.
Numbers 11:4 - They complained about no meat, God provided.
God tested them to know if they would come to the point of faith—trusting Him.

To know their need for God

Deuteronomy 8:3 NIV
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
They needed to know that they needed more than just physical food. They needed spiritual food. They needed to listen to the Word of the Lord. It had what they needed to cure their hearts.

To know God is training them for their good

Deuteronomy 8:5 NIV
Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
Discipline is not just punishment. Discipline is the whole of training. God was trying to train up the people to know Him, to know their own hearts, and to know their need for His directions in His Word. He wanted them to grow up and succeed.
Deuteronomy 8:16 NIV
He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.
He wanted them to grow up and be people after His own heart, following Him, trusting Him and honoring Him so it would go well for them.

To Honor God

Deuteronomy 8:6 NIV
Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him.
He wanted them to revere or honor Him as their God, as they should have. To honor Him as their loving Creator who was the one who provided and cared for them. He wanted to have an ongoing relationship with them.
That is why God test the Israelites.
That is why God tested Philip.
To know the heart
To know the need for God
To know the discipline of God
To honor and know God
Would Philip trust God in his heart, or be afraid? Would Philip see his need for God? Would Philip learn that God is training him? Would Philip honor and know Jesus, His God and savior?
It is interesting that on another occasion, after the feeding of the 5000 as recorded here, and the feeding of another crowd of 4000, that Jesus rebuked His disciples because they missed the point of the lesson.
Matthew 16:5–12 NIV
When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Jesus reminds them of the lesson they should have learned. You can trust me! I can provide for you! I will give you what you need, and it isn’t just the physical bread, it is the spiritual nourishment. I am training you! Don’t miss it! It is for your good! Honor and know me, I am your Lord and Savior!
And that is the reason God tests us.
To know the heart
To know the need for God
To know the discipline of God
To honor and know God
This week, let’s look at the trials, the tests in our lives. Let’s use them for what God intends them to be. Let’s ask God to reveal our hearts.
For the trial that you are going through, ask yourself what God is trying to show you about your heart. What is in your heart that He wants to change and make to be like His heart?
As we go through our trials, we don’t usually fail to have our plans for addressing or getting through the trial. Let’s lay those aside for a moment, and ask the Lord, “What is your plan?” “What do you want to accomplish in me, and through me?”
Let’s learn that God wants to train us in righteousness. How is God wanting to you live righteously in your trial? Do you see how living righteously is really for your own good?
Let’s honor and revere God as our loving Creator, Savior and God who is providing for us daily, giving us the strength we need to face our trials, and to simply live! He gives us strength to work. He gives us food to eat, shelter for living, peace in our hearts.
Honor and praise Him for being our loving Father who is training us for our good!
God is testing us for our good!
Prayer
Homework
Pray and ask the Lord to teach you about tests/trials and His provision this week. Read John 6:1-15. Look at the background, or setting of Jesus’ provision for the people? What time of year was it? Where were they? In a city or countryside? Was there food for the nearly 10,000 people (5,000 men, and then women and children as well) readily available? Would this be reminiscent of another time God acted for His people in the scriptures? When? What is similar? How would this help the people know Jesus better? How does this help you and I know Him better?
Why does God test us? Read Genesis 22:1-18. Why did God test Abraham? Was it to see him fail? Prior to this, did Abraham doubt God’s protection and provision? (Look back over Abraham’s life in the preceding chapters.) What was the outcome of this testing? Did Abraham doubt, or…? Read Hebrews 11:17-19.
Why does God tempt/test us? Read James 1:2-4. What is the goal according to verse 3? What does that goal lead to in our lives according to verse 4? What trials are you facing? What would perseverance look like in that trial? What would maturity look like in that situation? True spiritual maturity is when you would have the fruit of the Spirit in that situation. Review the fruit in Galatians 5:22-23.
Why does God test us? Read 1 Peter 1:3-7. Why does God allow the trials? What is His goal for us in the trials? Much like a teacher gives a test to see the students succeeding and growing (without the motivation of a test, most of us do not have the ambition to study and learn), God wants us to receive what according to this passage? What does that look like? Consider Matthew 5:21, 23. What would it take in your trial for you to receive that reception from God?
Provision. Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-10:13. In this passage, Paul shares how he goes through life. What is Paul’s attitude and goal according to 1 Cor. 9:19-23? Living this way is not easy. How does Paul relate the reality of the struggle in 1 Cor. 9:24-27? Paul’s goal is to get the prize. What is the prize? Paul then shares a warning from Israel’s history in 1 Cor. 10:1-13. They did not pass the test, did they? Did God fail to provide? What is the reason they failed to gain the prize? What does God promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13? How does this provide comfort? What is the way out?
Provision. Consider Ephesians 6:10-18. What is truth? Where do we find truth? John 17:17. Where does righteousness come from? 1 Cor. 1:30. Where does the gospel and peace from from? Ephesians 2:14. Faith is our response to God. But that response is always proceeded by his working in our hearts. Acts 16:14. Where does the salvation come from? Where does the sword come from? All is from God. God is our way out. He will provide the fruit of the Spirit. He provides the truth we need. He provides righteousness through Christ. He provides the firm foundation, Jesus. He provides the salvation, and the sword, the Word of God. Take up the Word. Be praying on all occasions about the trial you are going through, asking the Lord to give you righteousness through it. Ask Him what the righteous response would be. Then, step out in faith, knowing He will strengthen you as you stand on that truth and put it into practice.
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