The Sign with So Much Bread and Fish (John 6:1–15)

Read John 6:1–15.

Somewhere upstairs in the guest room closet, there’s a box of old memories from high school and college—little things that probably wouldn’t make much sense to anyone but me. One of the things tucked inside that box is a small strip of paper that reads, “You have been a lot of fun to have in class. May you have great success in the eyes of God!”

It was just a little bit of cursive writing scrawled across the top of a graded final exam paper, but the message and the teacher who wrote it meant a lot to me, so I tore it off and kept it.

Since my goofy teenage days, I’ve often thought about that note and what it means to have “great success in the eyes of God.” There are lots of folks who want to talk about success, but how they measure success is usually with the standard units the world uses—money, influence, power, fame. There are plenty of books, conferences, blogs, and courses dedicated to helping people achieve this sort of success, many of which are marketed toward Christians. But I’m not sure that’s what success always looks like in God’s eyes.

Reading the Bible, God seems more concerned with faithfulness than one’s ability to blow up social media or buy lots of things. He’s more interested in a person’s heart becoming more and more like the heart of His Son than He is with the size of that person’s home. At the same time, we all need to earn a living, provide for our family, and make our way through this world. Being successful as measured by the world isn’t a bad thing; it just can’t take hold of us. Wherever we are in life—rich or poor, powerful or weak—the one thing that matters above all else is whether we’re being faithful with what God has given us.

The feeding of the five thousand is the only full account of a miracle recorded in all four Gospels, but I love the details unique to John’s account. In all four versions, the miracle is basically the same: There is a large crowd, and it’s getting late, and there’s nothing for them to eat. Jesus takes a small amount of bread and fish, and multiplies it so that everyone is fed and there are twelve basketfuls of scraps left over. But in John we learn it was a young boy who had the original five loaves and two fishes to begin with. We also discover that it was Andrew who brought the boy and his lunch to Jesus.

If you recall, it was Andrew who used to follow John the Baptist around, until one day when John pointed to Jesus and announced, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). Then Andrew began following Jesus instead of John. He also brought his brother, Simon Peter, to meet the Lord (vv. 40–42).

From the beginning, Andrew was willing to trust Jesus. So here on the mountainside, when Jesus asks, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (6:5), it’s Andrew who presents the boy with the barley loaves and fish. He doesn’t know how it’s even going to make a dent in feeding the five thousand, but he is faithful to give what he has to Jesus.

With God, nothing is impossible—and the disciples are with God. Jesus is God in the flesh. That’s what the Lord wanted His friends to understand. John, in writing this account, even sets us up to see this by including a few small details. He tells us “the Jewish Passover Festival was near” (6:4). He also tells us Jesus went up on a mountainside (v. 3). He’s giving us clues to get us thinking about how God provided bread in the wilderness during the time of Moses (Exodus 16). The people need bread again, and Jesus wants His disciples to see that He is able to feed them, just as His father fed their ancestors.

I don’t know that Andrew has this all worked out in his head or that he even has a totally clear picture of who Jesus is, but I do believe He knows that no problem is too big for his Master. Otherwise, why bother bringing the boy’s loaves and fish at all? Faithlessness sulks and does nothing (or does the math). Faithfulness steps forward into the impossible, trusting God will make a way.

Not too long ago, I heard Dallas Jenkins, creator of the television series The Chosen, talk about some of the lessons God has taught him through the ups and downs of his career in film. He said he now lives by a principle derived from this passage. He lives every day reminding himself it’s not his job to feed the five thousand; it’s only to provide the loaves and fish. That’s faithfulness, and it’s what success looks like in God’s eyes.

What’s this all about?

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