There are many names given to Jesus in the New Testament. He is called Rabbi which means teacher, he is called a friend of sinners., Messiah, Christ, Emmanuel, the good shepherd, Son of God, Son of Man, the Word of God, and literally dozens and dozens more With all these different titles and names given to Jesus and with a lot of different ideas about who the Messiah was going to be and what kind of leader he was going to be, there was a lot of confusion among the crowds and among the disciples about exactly who Jesus was. We see this uncertainty and Jesus trying to clarify things in the two miracles we are going to look at today. The first miracle is the feeding of the 5,000 and it is the only miracle recorded in all 4 gospels. The second miracle took place just a few hours later and it is Jesus walking on the water.
These 2 miracles took place in an area along the Sea of Galilee called Tabgha. We visited Tabgha on our first day in Israel and it is an area where many well known events in Jesus’ life took place. It was here that Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount,
|Location of the Sermon on the Mount|
it was along the shores here that Jesus met Peter and the disciples after his resurrection
|The shores of the Sea of Galilee|
and it is here that we believe Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish because of this mosaic floor.
|The Church of the Multiplication at Tabgah|
|The rock where Jesus stood to feed the 5,000|
but these floors date back to 480 AD. This mosaic is located directly behind a rock and most people believe that they built the original church around this rock because it is where Jesus stood when he distributed the 5 loaves and 2 fish that fed not 5,000 people but as many as 20,000 people once you include the women and children.
While this miracle shows us the compassion Jesus had for people and the power He had to provide what people needed, there is a symbolic statement in this miracle that the people clearly understood or I should say misunderstood. In the book of Jeremiah there is a story about the prophet dictating the word of God to his scribe Baruch and the writings of Baruch became revered among the Jewish people. These writings talk about the coming of the Messiah and how when that time comes all those who are hungry will enjoy themselves and they will, moreover, see marvels every day and it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will come down again from on high, and they will eat of it in those years because these are they who will have arrived at the consummation of time. (From the book of Baruch)
In other words, when the Messiah came there would be a miracle where all those who were hungry would be fed by bread from heaven. Jesus has just provided bread for over as many as 20,000 people – he has opened the treasury of manna and so the people begin thinking that the time has arrived and the Messiah has come. Jesus is the king who was going to lead God’s people into freedom and it was political –national freedom that the people wanted.
The people were looking for a Messiah who would help them overthrow the oppression of Rome and lead them into establishing their own kingdom – God’s kingdom. They were looking for a warrior king like David and there were many leaders who claimed to be this kind of King or Messiah that surfaced in the years before Jesus. One of these leaders was a man named Simon. Simon gathered a group of followers and began to fight against the Romans in the wilderness near Jericho. While Simon was eventually killed by the Romans in 4 BC, his message and rebellion stirred the hearts of the people for a Messiah who would come and lead them in an armed revolt against Rome. When Jesus started teaching and preaching about the kingdom of God and when people saw him do miracles that the Messiah was going to do and now when he provides manna for the people, the crowds saw in Jesus another Simon, another leader who would lead a rebellion.
That the people wanted to make Jesus a king is clear when we look at this miracle in the gospel of John.
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. (John 6:14-15) After Jesus fed the people they began talking about his power and they saw in his miracle this sign of manna from heaven so want to make him King. While Jesus is king, he did not come to be that kind of king. The people wanted someone to help them overthrow Rome. Many of the people were looking for someone like Simon who would lead an armed attack so when they saw the power of Jesus to do miracles they wanted to crown him king and go to war, but this was not what Jesus wanted. Jesus did not come to be this kind of king so the first thing he did was send his disciples away and then he dismissed the crowds.
It wasn’t until our Men’s Bible Study looked at this passage that this detail jumped out. Jesus sends the disciples away first and then he dismissed the crowds which tells us that Jesus didn’t want the disciples around when he confronted the crowds about their desire to make him king. I think Jesus is trying to keep the disciples from getting the wrong idea about what it meant for him to be the Messiah. The disciples already believed that Jesus was the son of God, they had already seen his power but they were struggling to figure out what it all meant. Was Jesus going to be a political leader and organize a rebellion or was he a spiritual leader and teacher? The disciples were having a difficult time understanding it all so to make sure they don’t get swept away with the crowds desire for Jesus to be crowned a king Jesus sends them away and then confronts and dismisses the people.
So the miracle of the loaves and fishes does show us the power of God to care for a provide for his people and it shows us that Jesus can open that treasury of manna and do another miracle of bread which the prophets proclaimed, but by dismissing the crowds Jesus is also saying that he did not come to be a political leader and set up an earthly kingdom. Being the Messiah means something different for Jesus and so Jesus retreats to not only rest but to refocus his heart and mind on who God has called him to be. There must have been a temptation for Jesus to follow the excitement of the crowd – but that is not what God has called him to do.
After spending some time in prayer in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee,
|Hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee|
Jesus sees the boat with the disciples in it struggling in a storm. Now the day we were on the Sea of Galilee it was perfectly calm,
|Sea of Galilee the day we were there. Very Calm|
but because of the topography in this part of Israel, storms are very common and can come up very quickly. The Sea of Galilee is the second lowest lake at 500 feet below sea level but the hills around the sea can rise quickly up to 3,000 feet.
|Hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee|
So winds come off the Mediterranean Sea which is only 48 miles away and sweep across the hot valley and then after rising up the mountains there is a sudden drop off to the cool waters of the sea. This quick drop and cooler temperatures creates sudden changes in air pressure which creates strong winds on the sea. The Sea of Galilee is also relatively shallow at only 200 feet deep so the water cannot absorb all that energy which means the waves can get very high and rough. This is what happened the night as Jesus was off praying.
After watching the disciples struggling Jesus walks out to them on the water and when the disciples see someone approaching it says they are filled with fear because they assume it is some kind of ghost – who else would be walking on the water and approaching them in a fierce storm. In response to their fear Jesus says, it is I – but a better translation of that would be I AM, which was the name God had given to himself in the Old Testament. When Moses stood at the burning bush and asked God what he was supposed to say to the people of Israel when he asked who had sent him as their leader, God told Moses to tell the people that I AM sent me. That is now the name Jesus has given to his disciples.
Think about the similarities here. In the midst of the storm of fire swirling around a bush but not consuming it came the name I AM and now in the midst of a storm of water, winds and waves swirling around a person but consumed not consuming him comes the name I AM. Jesus is clearly saying to the disciples that He is God. Jesus is the same God who spoke to Moses in the burning bush and Jesus is the same God who provided manna in the wilderness. He is not a just a king and ruler, he is not just a teacher or rabbi and he is not just a healer and miracle worker he is all of that and more. Jesus is God. Just like we saw in the miracle of water to wine last week, Jesus is helping his disciples understand exactly who he is and that is part of what the miracles were all about – showing people that Jesus really is the son of God and God in the flesh, the one who can feed the hungry and has power over the water, wind and waves.
We know that the disciples slowly begin to understand all of this because of Peter’s response. Peter says, Lord if it is really you and if you are really God and have this power, then let me walk on the water with you, and Jesus says, Come. So Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk on the water. Peter walking on the water is a sign that he and the rest of the disciples are beginning to get it. They are slowly beginning to understand that Jesus didn’t come to lead a political party but to demonstrate God’s power to overcome the problems of this world. He has come to feed the hungry and heal the sick and forgive the sinner and offer people God’s peace and power in the midst of the storm. Peter is slowly getting it, but he’s not fully there yet because he takes his eyes off of Jesus and re-focuses on the problems – the wind and waves – and then begins to sink. He’s just not there yet, he doesn’t fully understand and have faith enough to trust Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t let him sink – he reaches out and rescues Peter. Once again we see that Jesus as the Messiah rescues those in need. He rescued those who needed hope and healing, he rescued those who faced embarrassment and shame and today he rescues those who struggle to believe in him.
Now before we look at that in more detail, let me say something about Peter. We always give Peter a hard time for taking his eyes off of Jesus or not having enough faith, but I look at it this way – he was the only one who had enough faith and courage to get out of the boat. We sailed on the Sea of Galilee on a perfectly calm day
|A calm Sea of Galilee|
and there was no way I would have gotten out of the boat and tried walking on the water even if Jesus was standing right there
|I can’t imagine walking on this water!|
and there is no way I would have done it in the midst of the storm far from shore. It took a lot of courage for Peter to do what he did and it took a lot of faith for the disciples to work through all that Jesus was teaching them. This is not an easy road for them. They are still getting to know Jesus, they are wrestling with his teaching and trying to make sense out of his miracles and all around them there are some saying he should be king and others saying he is crazy and even others saying he is dangerous and should be killed, so this is not an easy time for the disciples and yet what this miracle shows us is that Jesus has compassion for them.
First Jesus sent them away to protect them from getting caught up in the crowd wanting to make Jesus a king. He wanted to keep them from wrong ideas that would tempt them and lead them astray. He was leading them from temptation. Then he revealed his divine power over nature by walking on the water in a storm and then he claimed to be God by saying he is I AM. Jesus then invited his disciples to test him and his power by inviting Peter to walk on the water and then has compassion on them when they struggle to believe. Jesus then gets into the boat with them and the storm dies down and it is then that they worship him and Jesus accepts their worship. What both these miracles show us is that Jesus is patient with his disciples as they grow in their faith and trust and God is patient with us as we grow in our faith.
The truth is that we often find ourselves in situations similar to the disciples in these two miracles. God may call us to step out in faith and do something like help feed the hungry or trust Him when storms are raging around us and if and when we do step out in faith we may not always understand what God is doing, we may not see everything clearly and we may even fail – but God is patient with us. God doesn’t give up on us. God simply steps into our lives and keeps going with us.
As I have shared before, I spent a summer working in Yellowstone National Park.
|Old Faithful in Yellowstone NP|
It was a huge step of faith for me to go there and I went to serve God through a ministry called ACMNP. God opened many doors for me to get there and God placed me exactly where he wanted me – working in a kitchen, but I wasn’t content.
|The Marina Restaurant at Grant Village in YNP.|
I took my eyes off of Jesus and kept going after other jobs, first in an ice cream shop, then in the dining room – I just wasn’t content where God put me and I was having a hard time trusting God to lead me. At one point during that summer I started to sink because I went after what I wanted and just like with Peter, God didn’t let me sink, he rescued me and then said, you of little faith – why did you doubt?
I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my faith, I’m still not. There are still times I hear God say, Andy, why do you doubt? I simply say, I don’t know God. You have revealed your power and glory so many times in my life. I have seen you provide for me in so many ways and I know your hand leads and guides me, but I struggle at times to believe and fully trust you. But God is still there. Jesus is with me in life, he’s in my boat, and he’s in yours too. We all struggle to believe. We all struggle to understand what it means to call Jesus savior and lord, we struggle at times to understand what it means to call Jesus God with us, or Emmanuel, and we struggle to understand how he is King and brings to us God’s kingdom. We struggle. We sink. We don’t think we have what it takes. But God doesn’t let us go. God is patient and allows us to work through things.
The disciples struggled for several hours on the water – but Jesus was watching out over them and when things got too hard for them he walked out to them. Jesus was there. And Jesus is here. Jesus is here to watch over us, care for us, provide for us, show us who he is and patiently wait for us to step out to him in faith. May today be the day that we take one more step with Jesus. It may be a courageous step out of the boat or a comforting step back into the boat – either way, let’s just take that step.
The Miracles of Jesus ~ Feeding the 5,000 and Walking on Water
1. The miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all 4 gospels. Read it in each of the gospels to see what similarities and difference are found:
• Matthew 14:15-33
• Mark 6:30-52
• Luke 9:10-17
• John 6:1-24 (Read verses 25-71 as well)
2. Jesus invited the disciples to be part of the miracle. What miracle can you be part of this week? How can you help feed the hungry or meet the needs you see in people around you?
3. Can you identify a time when you stepped out in faith to trust and follow Jesus? What happened? Did you walk or sink?
4. How and where is Jesus calling you to trust him today? What does it mean for you to get out of the boat and walk on water? What storms and fears does God want to calm?