Many Pictures, One Scene
26 April 2015
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Look at the verses at the top of your bulletin—Ps 23:1-2 [read]. What in the world does David mean when he says that God makes believers to lie down in green pastures? Commentators often miss the point. Knowing little to nothing about caring for sheep, they suggest it has to do with God feeding us with Scripture. While God does do that, David didn’t say, “The Lord leads me to green pastures to eat.” He says that the Lord “makes me lie down in green pastures.” Others suggest that it refers to how God keeps us safe and secure. Again, while God does do that, that’s not what David is talking about.
Having raised sheep, I know how this works. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Read others such as Phillip Keller in A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. You see, when sheep are led to a pasture, they will eat and eat and eat with little chewing. Once they are full they lie down. Why? They need to do something with all that grass that they’ve scarfed down. They chew the cud.
Now, if you didn’t grow up on a farm that might be a weird idea to you. Think about those times when you’re reading Lev 11 or Dt 14 where God instructs the Jews on what animals, fish and birds they may eat. You read some weird guidelines: you may eat animals that have split hooves AND chew the cud. So while pigs have split hooves, they don’t chew the cud. While camels chew the cud, they don’t have split hooves. Jews could eat sheep, goats and cattle but not pigs, camels and rabbits.
What does it mean to ‘chew the cud’? Some animals are called ruminants—they ruminate or ‘chew the cud.’ OK. But what does that mean? It means that they scarf down a lot of grass, then lie down and process that grass so that it can be digested. People can’t digest grass because we’re not ruminants. But sheep can. They will bring up a bit of grass (a ‘cud’) from a ‘holding tank’ in their stomach and they will give it a good chew. Then they swallow it and chew another cud. This goes on for hours. So a shepherd will lead his sheep to pasture, let them scarf down a lot of grass, then he will have them lie down to chew the cud. Otherwise, they couldn’t digest the collagen in grass.
Now it gets a little more weird. If you are a believer, God refers to you as one of His sheep. You are a lot like a sheep. One similarity is that you should chew the cud. Do you chew the cud? If you don’t, you won’t be able to digest what God feeds you. The godly man or woman will daily chew their cud. Fortunately, God doesn’t call it that. When it comes to people, He calls it meditation. I’m not talking about emptying your mind and humming. Biblical meditation involves filling your mind with God’s truth and then thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s work but it’s delightful work.
We’re talking about Ps 23, but how do the Psalms begin? Ps 1 tells us that the godly man delights in God’s word and meditates on it day and night. That’s the human version of chewing the cud. While God does feed us, David instead zeroes in on what happens next. The Lord makes us to lie down in those green pastures to meditate. How else will we find delight in laws like “eat cows but don’t eat camels”? In our church, we do a good job of filling our minds with God’s truth. But do we daily draw aside from the busyness to meditate on that truth? If not, we’re not really digesting it. We’re not putting it into practice and I can promise you that we won’t truly be delighting in it either.
So far in Jesus’ ministry He has performed many miracles and preached many sermons. But are the people taking the time to really think about what it all says about Jesus? Can they rightly understand the OT Scriptures about Messiah and understand how Jesus fulfills those? In this miracle in John 6, Jesus is going to cause the people to be reminded of many OT pictures—pictures that should help them recognize the Messiah. Jesus just said in the previous passage that the OT Scriptures testify of Him. He is going to now call to mind some of those OT images that illustrate truths about Himself and then He will draw out those truths as He teaches the people.
You see, Jesus wants people to give careful thought—to take the time to ponder what all this is saying about Him. We need to consider a vital question: who is this Jesus? Let’s try to re-live this experience and picture for ourselves all the images that Jesus presents to the people.
The Feeding of the 5,000 is the only sign that is recorded in all four gospels. It was used by Jesus to set the stage for an important time of teaching. I want us to see this morning that in one scene, John provides many OT pictures that encourage people to meditate on who Jesus is.
I. The setting (John 6:1-4).
We now find ourselves back in Galilee, around April, when Jesus resumes His Galilean ministry after He had been in Jerusalem for one of the feasts. Jesus’ disciples had just returned from a preaching tour that He sent them on and he sought to go away with them to a remote place (Mt 14:13-15; Mk 6:32). Since they are near Bethsaida (Lk 9:10), they are at the Northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. From there they go up on a mountainside, probably a large grassy mountainside in the Golan Heights. Then, a great multitude quickly gathers. Why? John mentions that it was because they had seen the many signs Jesus had performed.
Jesus crossed a sea and goes up on a mountain. What does that remind them of? Moses crossing the Red Sea and going up onto Mt. Sinai. It is almost time for Passover. This conjures up more pictures: lambs, blood, eating the flesh of the lamb and unleavened bread—pictures that Jesus will draw upon. So the setting is very theological and John helps us to get into the right frame of mind.
II. Testing the disciples (5-9).
Since Phillip was from nearby Bethsaida, Jesus asked him this question not to get information but to educate His disciples. This was part of their training—to teach them to think using His perspective. Jesus had an important lesson about who He is. Have they ruminated on the signs which have already occurred? If so, then they would have asked Jesus to supernaturally provide food. But alas, they haven’t yet thought enough on those signs to understand.
There were a lot of people here. Two hundred denarii was about 8 month’s wages. Even if that much bread had been available, the disciples didn’t have that kind of money. Philip’s response revolved around what they couldn’t do. Andrew was a little more helpful, but still couldn’t resolve the dilemma. He reported that a boy had five barley loaves and two fish. Barley cakes (look like pancakes) were poor man’s food. The two fish were probably small pickled fish that would add a little flavor to the barley cakes. This could be a boy, a young man or a young servant. It called to mind the passage where Elisha’s servant is called by this same word. There, Elisha fed 100 men with 20 barley cakes (2 Kgs 4:42-44) and had some left over. A prophet greater than Elisha is here!
III. Feeding the multitude (John 6:10-13).
Picture all of these people in their typically white robes, on this green hillside. What do they look like? A flock of sheep! Jesus had the “sheep” (Mk 6:34) literally to “recline”—to lie down in green pastures (Ps 23:2)! Since there were 5,000 men, most likely there were 10,000 to 20,000 people when you count women and children (Mt 14:21)! Here in a desolate area, near Passover, the situation and timing calls to mind Moses providing for the ancient people of Israel in the wilderness with manna—bread from heaven.
Jesus gave thanks and distributed the food. He provided as much as they wanted. Being filled or satisfied like sheep on good pastures, they now need to chew their cud–to think carefully on what it all means (Ps 23:2). Jesus didn’t want them to jump to the wrong conclusion but they did anyway.
As they gathered up the leftover fragments, they found that they had enough to fill twelve baskets. The leftovers are far more than what they started with! [Moms, remember this when your family complains about leftovers. Even Jesus’ encouraged them to save the leftovers!] Leftovers show us how bountifully the Lord provides for us.
IV. The responses of the crowd and Jesus (John 6:14-15).
Jesus performed this sign to teach the people about Himself. All the pictures brought into their minds point to Jesus as the coming Prophet Moses told about in Deut 18:15. Since Moses fed the people and delivered them from Egyptian bondage, so now this Prophet had fed them and could deliver them from Roman bondage. They couldn’t see past their need for food and security because they wouldn’t think more deeply upon the OT references or upon Jesus’ works and teaching. Here is the problem with not ruminating on the truth long enough.
Think about how exciting this is getting! Passover was a time of intense, nationalistic passion, similar to our Independence Day. There are enough men to form a good sized guerilla army. Jesus could lead them into Jerusalem and with His power they could overthrow Rome! Now it’s kind of funny that they think He has the power to overthrow Rome, but that they had the power to kidnap Him and force Him to be king! Can we really force Jesus to do our bidding?
Knowing men’s hearts (2:25), Jesus was perceiving their motives. He will be King, but it isn’t time yet. So here, at the high point of His popularity, He quickly withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. Jesus wasn’t willing to be distracted from His Father’s path to the kingdom, nor was He willing to be distracted from meeting His people’s deepest and most vital need. He has been offered the kingdom before. Both were temptations to take a path other than His Father’s path.
If you are not yet saved, think about what Jesus is teaching you about Himself. This was written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ. How does this help you know that? Brothers and sisters, consider slowing down your gospel conversations to focus on what passages like this tell us about Jesus and how they show who He is. If you are a believer, how does this passage help you to have life in His name? Think on this until you have digested it well and have something concrete that helps you experience life more abundantly. I now leave you to “chew the cud” that is, to meditate on Jesus this week. Who is this Jesus who fed the 5,000?