Sermon: John 6:1-21: Bread from Heaven

Reading of God’s Word

“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!” 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. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 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. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” (John 6:1–21, ESV)


Do you like bread? I certainly do! One of my favorite things is to walk into the house after my wife has made a fresh loaf of bread. I love the smell of it. I love the way that it satisfies when you eat it. Bread is one of those very simple and yet wonderfully pleasing things.

But have you ever stopped to ask the question, what is bread for? Why is it here? Why do we have it?

On one level you may respond saying, well that’s a ridiculous question. Bread is food! It nourishes the body. It’s purpose is to sustain us, to strengthen us, to give us life. And that is true. Bread does indeed serve the physical body. But may I suggest to you that bread serves another more important purpose – a higher purpose. Bread serves, not only the body, but, in a way, it also serves the human soul.

You say, how so? How can a physical thing benefit an invisible thing? How can something made up of molecules have any effect upon the immaterial? 

The answer is this: bread was given by God so that as we eat of it we would be perpetually reminded of the God who has given it to us. Bread, if we eat of it rightly, should not only invigorate the body, but the heart and mind and soul of man as well. Bread, if we eat of it rightly, should lift our thoughts to the God who made us, to the God Who Provides.

And of course this is true, not only of bread, but of all created things.

The teaching of scripture is that the stuff of the universe exists, not only to sustain physical and earthly life, but also (and perhaps more importantly, though we rarely think of it) to testify to, and direct our hearts towards the God who made us.

The things that exist in this physical universe exist ultimately to glorify God. This is what the scriptures say:

Colossians 1:16 – “For by him [the Son of God] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16, ESV)

Romans 1:19–20 – “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

We live in a world, you see, that is continually crying out and testifying concerning the glory and power and goodness of the Creator. The universe has been made in such a way that testimony concerning the Creator is imbedded within it.

Perhaps you could take some time to think upon all of this.

Look up at the stars and ponder the greatness of God. Observe the rising and setting of the sun and consider his faithfulness. Sit for a moment in the warmth of the sunlight and think upon his mercy and grace. Consider the power of the great oceans, the mystery of fire and wind, and the refreshment that is found in the rain. If we were think rightly concerning the world in which we live would our thought would inevitably be drawn again and again to the Creator.

All of these created things serve as analogies concerning God. They serve as analogies, not because we have made them into analogies, but because they were created for this purpose – to communicate some truth concerning the God who made us and to draw our thoughts towards him.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31–32, ESV)

You say, but Joe, when people look upon the stars, and when the consider the ocean, the fire, wind, and rain, their thoughts do not go to God. People do not naturally worship God as they ought to worship him through their observation of the natural world. In fact, it seems that they do the opposite. When people eat bread, they tend to only think of bread and how they can possess more of it. 

And that is true! In fact that seems to be the very point of John 6. Human beings, left in their fallen and sinful state, eat bread without giving a thought to the one who has provided it.

This is true in ordinary circumstances, but the blindness and self-centeredness of the human condition is so severe that it is even true when five loaves and two fish are multiplied to feed a great multitude. Men and woman are obsessed with bread. They are preoccupied with filling their stomach. They are so devoted to satisfying their fleshy and worldly appetites that they are in effect oblivious to the spiritual and eternal realities that lay beyond.

John 6, if were to consider it in it’s totality, is an incredible assessment of the human condition. Even after seeing this event, even after eating the bread multiplied, natural men refuses to follow Jesus.  Jesus, in John 6:22-59, will go on to explain the significance, or meaning, of this miracle. And what is the response of those who hear him? “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66, ESV)

They were only concerned with the bread of this earth. They wanted nothing to do with the bread of life that had come down from heaven.

So let’s consider the miracle itself. We will consider both the miracle of the multiplication of the the bread and the fish as well as the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. The two stories go together. In particular we will ask, what do these events tell us about Jesus?

Jesus is the Coming Prophet Promised from Long Ago

The first thing that this sign signifies is that Jesus is the coming prophet promised from long ago.

Allusions to Moses and the Exodus event are hard to miss

Before this text – “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46, ESV)

After this text – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”” (John 6:47–51, ESV)

In the event itself – Parallels with the Passover, the manna in the wilderness, the dividing of the read sea.

The problem – A multitude of hungry people in the wilderness

Jesus’ compassion

The worldly perspective of the two disciples:

“Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”” (John 6:7, ESV)

“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 6:8–9, ESV)

Notice the theme (born again, living water, destroy this temple all misunderstood)

Jesus’ Action

The giving of thanks.  Traditional: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.”

The multiplication of the bread and fish

The abundance of bread

The response of the people – “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” (John 6:14, ESV) See Deuteronomy 18:18: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18, ESV)

The response of Jesus to their response: “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.” (John 6:15, ESV)

Jesus was indeed the prophet, but the people are worldly in their appetites and expectations.

Jesus has the Power to Give Life

The second thing that this sign signifies is that Jesus has the power to give life.

He sustains physical life

He gives spiritual life

The giving of earthly bread was to serve two purposes, to sustain physical life and to draw the heart to feast upon Christ – this was true of the manna and of the multiplied bread

Jesus has the Power to Save from Death

The third thing that this sign signifies is that Jesus has the power to save from death.

The walking on water

Water symbolizes judgement – chaos of waters prior to the six days of creation, the flood, the parting of the sea.

The sign of the bread and fish was observed by the disciples and a great multitude. The sign of Jesus walking on water was reserved for the disciples only.

Why would Jesus subject his disciples to such an experience?


A more emotionally pronounced experience of the terror of judgment

A more emotionally pronounced experience of the joy of salvation

“But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’” (John 6:20, ESV)

John’s gospel is complex. Not in the sense of being hard to understand, but packed full imagery and allusion. I’ve hardly uncovered it all for you this morning.


Give thanks when you eat

This is one way to guard against growing preoccupied with the things of this world.

“Christ has oftener than once instructed us by his example that, whenever we take food, we ought to begin with prayer. For those things which God has appointed for our use, being evidences of his infinite goodness and fatherly love towards us, call on us to offer praise to Him; and thanksgiving, as Paul informs us, is a kind of solemn sanctification, by means of which the use of them begins to be pure to us, (1 Tim. 4:4.) Hence it follows, that they who swallow them down without thinking of God, are guilty of sacrilege, and of profaning the gifts of God. And this instruction is the more worthy of attention, because we daily see a great part of the world feeding themselves like brute beasts. “(Calvin, Commentary on John 6:11)

Do not neglect or abuse the Lord’s Supper

Bread and wine in John

When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we partake of Christ. We eat his flesh and drink his blood, not in that body of Christ comes down from heaven into the elements (transubstantiation), but in that we are lifted up to him through the symbolic meal and we feast upon him spiritually.

Partake of Christ by faith

Set your eyes upon him continually. Put off the lie that the stuff of this universe is all there is.  We are guilty of the sin of idolatry when we eat and drink and enjoy the pleasures of this life without giving glory to God. We are guilty of idolatry when we eat and drink and enjoy the pleasures of life as the pleasures themselves are the end thing, the supreme thing.

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–11, ESV)

What was the sin of the people of Israel in the wilderness? The ate the manna, they drank from the rock, and they rose up to play. They concerned with the pleasures of this life, but altogether unconcerned with the God who made them.

They grumbled. And why did they grumble? Because you look to the things of this world – bread and water, sex, whatever – you find that it never satisfies. You want more and more. They grumbled, and they were destroyed by the Destroyer.  They were bitten by serpents.

“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11, ESV)

We are tempted in the same way. We are tempted to live for the things of this world and to forget God.

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