My new favourite TV show is House. It's not quite the West Wing or 24 but there aren't any new episodes of either on at the moment. What I love about House is that it's clever TV. Or at least it tries to be. House is a modern day Sherlock Holmes – House, Holmes.... who uses differential diagnosis and the Socratic method to solve medical cases. I have no more idea about whether that's good medicine than I know about the medical jargon they throw around. But it is fun to watch... What I do know is that sitting and staring at a problem for ages is something I like to do. It was what I enjoyed most about studying Maths at Uni. I wasn't all that good at it but working on it was fun. Sometimes. Problem solving is fraught with wrong trails but is glorious when it reaches its solution.
It's a bit like that coming to a passage like John 6. We don't come to triumph over the passage and cast our judgement on it – but to see it unlocked. We come to understand have the Holy Spirit persuade us about Jesus, penetrating our hearts to believe. In John 6 the people face a problem to solve – the same question as on every page of the Bible: who is Jesus? They get many things right but draw some wrong conclusions or applications. It's a remarkable incident that all the gospel writers record. John has something unique to tell us though.
We begin with Jesus, very popular. By the end of this incident they want to make him king. It's not an impossible route to travel from celebrity to political ruler, but something has changed here. What? Why? How? Let's investigate. We find Jesus (v1), just under 2000 years ago by the Sea of Galilee in Israel. V2, huge crowds are following him because of his miracles. He's the local celebrity preacher. In v3 he sits to teach as was the custom in his culture, and by the time the incident is over, in v15, the crowd want to force him to become their king. What on earth happens in between?
The feeding of the 5000 is what happens in between, v5-13. It's described as a miraculous sign, v14, not just a miracle. From five loaves and two fish the whole crowd, 5000 men plus women and children are amply fed with twelve baskets to spare. Just stop for a moment and consider what happened there! This is no ordinary picnic. Some have explained it away as just a spiritual feeing but that doesn't explain the filled stomachs or the net increase of food – more afterwards than before. Don't ask me how the Physics of that works but here it is. The crowd are amazed. Clearly they should take note, but, v15, they seek his coronation?
Why? You'd could understand if they wanted to make him the new Chief Executive of Tescos. You could understand if they lauded him as the Jamie Oliver of his day doing wonders with packed lunches. But king? Notice, v14, it's a sign. It points to something else. This is John's approach – evidence to show us who Jesus is. Jesus meanwhile is, v6, testing his disciples. Teaching what? Consider the clues – the when, where, what...
First, V4- passover. Not just where, but when. This event is near the festival of passover. Passover recalls God's rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt 1400 years before, when he rescued them. How? By the death of a lamb in their place that they remembered every Passover. The blood of which was spread over their door, and turned away God's wrath. He passed over them when judging Israel. They think they're needy because they're hungry but the when of these events shouts out that they have much bigger need than filling their stomachs. They're in need of rescue from wrath. That might sound a bit serious. And it really is.
Second, V3 – the hills, wilderness and mountain. Hence no food. Much like Israel in the wilderness after they left Egypt. Think when, where and what...
Thirdly, V14 – the people conclude Jesus is 'The Prophet'. We'll come to that in a moment. What do we know so far? Passover, wilderness, mountain, Exodus. Rescue. Jesus provides bread from heaven in the wilderness. Like Moses. The details point towards Deuteronomy 18:
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my word sin his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account”
This is who the people mean when they say Jesus is The Prophet...
- Jesus through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made. He who spoke light into the darkness.
- Jesus who saw Nathanael at a distance and whose words penetrated into his heart like a double-edged sword to discern the motives of his heart.
- Jesus who spoke to the woman at the well and read her heart and her history.
- Jesus who came from the Father with words that Nicodemus should have understood, revealing God's salvation plan in words more precious than gold.
- Jesus who simply said the word to a royal official about his son: 'Your son will live' and he did. Or to a lame man - 'Pick up your mat' and he walked.
- Jesus whose words carry universe-creating broken-life re-making authority like the words of no-one else who has ever walked on planet earth.
This is the Prophet Jesus who doesn't just speak the word of God but is the very fulfilment of all the Jewish Scriptures. He is the one Moses spoke of. He is The Prophet. And John doesn't disagree with the conclusion of the crowds. Neither does Jesus. With all the evidence considered they have draw the right conclusion! So what's the problem? Right conclusion. Jesus the Prophet must be King. Of course he is the King! He has authority like no-one else. The kind of authority that makes presidents look like they play with toy soldiers, and billionnaire businessmen look like they're just swapping monopoly money.