Opportunity or Obstacle? (John 6:1-15)
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.
When I was young, I had a teacher who nicknamed me Puddleglum. If you are not a fan of the Narnia book series this name will probably mean very little to you. If you are, you know exactly what my teacher was saying to me.
In the C.S. Lewis books, Puddleglum, was a character that was definitely a “glass-half-empty” person. Every situation was greeted with a pessimistically, snide comment. In all honesty, I really didn’t see myself as a negative person, I would rather have put myself in the “Realist” category. As I saw it, life was full of problems, and sugar coating everything wouldn’t change that fact.
But as I grew up, I began to see that the reality of the brokenness of our world wasn’t really the point. My teacher was trying to get a message through to me, one that Jesus sought to communicate to His disciples as well. In John 6:1-15, we see Jesus point out a very real problem, the fact that a large group of people had traveled far without food was evident to everyone. This was an impossible problem. We read that Jesus knew how He would solve that problem, but first He recognized the teachable moment the problem had presented His disciples.
How would they view this problem? How would they address this problem? Understand that the entire reason the crowd existed was because Jesus had shown that He had the miraculous ability to solve impossible problems. He had turned water into wine, He had healed the blind, lame and paralyzed. Jesus even brought a young boy back from the brink of death from several miles away! It would seem the disciples should have begun to view Jesus as the only one capable of solving impossible problems. We see obstacles, but Jesus sees opportunities.
In fact, we read that this was Jesus’ test. Would they see this problem as an obstacle that could not be overcome? Or would they see this problem as an opportunity to give God glory, to generate new faith, or to find new hope?
Every day we encounter problems. Some are mundane and we are used to them, like a low gas tank when we are running late. Others shake us to the core due to their immensity. We find ourselves stuck behind a very large impossible obstacle.
The very real problem with viewing every problem as an impossible obstacle is that our only actionable response is worry, stress, complaining and the temptation to quit.
This is how the disciples chose to respond.
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?”
Philip, the realist in the group, decides to give Jesus a lecture on finance and accounting. Andrew tries his best, but his doubts come through. The fact is that there was no possible solution to the problem.
I think the subtext is clear. Jesus should have sent the crowd away earlier; the people should have been more responsible and prepared better.
We don’t see any of the disciple suggest a miracle. I find this at one-point mind boggling, considering what they had witnessed previously, but also at the same time, I completely agree with their point. And that is the life of the Christ-follower in a nutshell.
We have the power of Christ at our disposal, we know He loves us and guides us, yet we are so close to every problem that we rarely consider the opportunities they present us.
Jesus hears their words, but instead of rebuking them or losing His patience, He enlists their help as He performs one of the most amazing object lessons of all time.
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!”
I know Jesus doesn’t do it, but if He were a Kindergarten teacher, I imagine Him asking the disciples after it was all over with; “Now, how many baskets of food are left?” and “How many of you are there?”
The impossible problem is solved in an impossible way, and they are left with more than enough to meet their needs. Jesus’ point? Back away from the problem and begin to ask more questions. Why would Jesus have allowed me to walk into this problem? What opportunities exist as I watch God do the impossible? What is the Holy Spirit trying to accomplish in my heart as I walk through this problem?
The people recognized what this miracle meant, they in fact wanted to march Jesus straight to Jerusalem and force Him to be their King. Imagine a King that could solve all of life’s impossible problems.
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.
But Jesus denied them this favor, He, after all, was there to ultimately solve the most impossible problem. Our sin problem. To solve the impossible obstacle that blocked us from knowing our God and Creator personally. And He solved it by walking into a problem, the problem of death on a cross. The cross though was not just a problem, but an opportunity. An opportunity for grace and restoration for all. Praise God that we find opportunity in all our problems when we walk through them with Jesus.