Years ago, when I was in my Grade Twelve year, my Mom and Dad took me and my siblings to Disneyland. And one of the many things that I noticed there was that things were valued differently there. My prior experience with amusement rides had been in midways at exhibitions and in those places, you need to buy a bunch of tickets which you give to the ride attendant before you get on the ride. But at Disneyland, they have set things up so that you only need to pay one time at one place and that is when you go in through the front gates and then all the rides are free. So, among the seven of us in our family, only my Dad had any pain because he paid for us all to get into the park and the rest of us had no pain at all. And another way in which I noticed that things were valued differently was with the arcade games, for not only was it cheap to play on them, it only cost a dime, but the games were set up so that you could actually when at the games, and both of these are significantly different from how arcade games functioned outside of Disneyland at that time. Disneyland was a realm where things were valued differently than they were outside of that realm.
A realm is a certain area where a certain thing or person rules and/or sets the standard of how things are done. From the world of literature, we can say that, prior to a visit by two short people with hairy feet, Mordor was the realm where Sauron ruled. Sauron ruled over Mordor and set the tone for how things were done in that area. Another word for realm is “kingdom” but we don’t use that word much today, at least in the sense that it was meant many years ago.
But we do live in realms today. And we can say that in the realm in which we live, the way that things are valued is that more stuff in our hands is better. And in this realm, which we could call “the kingdom of the world,” there are three main kinds of stuff, which are money, power and attractiveness or good looks. And in this world, there are “haves” and “have nots.” There are those who have one or more of these three things and there are those who do not. Those who “have not” get beat up by the world’s way of valuing things and people. And even those who “have” according to the standards of the world will eventually lose by the world’s standards because as we get older, our good looks will deteriorate, our power will fade because we won’t be able to do the things that we used to do and our money will be taken away from us when we die, if not before.
When Jesus came into this world, He not only came to save us from our sins, which He did, He not only came to give us eternal life with Him, which He did, He also came to introduce a new reality, a new realm, a new kingdom into this world. And just as things are valued differently inside Disneyland than they are anywhere else, so also things are valued differently in Jesus’ kingdom than they are in the kingdom of this world. As was already mentioned, in the kingdom of the world, more stuff in our hands is better. In the kingdom of Jesus, more stuff in Jesus’ hands is better because small things in Jesus’ hands have infinite worth. Therefore, with Jesus as our King, we always have hope, whether we never had much, or we used to have lots, but lost it, we can be confident that our meagre possessions, our unimpressive abilities and even our ordinary lives, such as they are, all have infinite worth in the hands of Jesus. And what makes this even more extraordinary is that Jesus can use the small things that we give Him to create immense blessings for others.
We turn now to John 6:1-15 and look at an event that is often called the Feeding of the 5,000. The first thing that we notice is that there is a Crowd. In John 6:2 we read “and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.” This large crowd had gathered because they had seen or heard about the miracles Jesus had done to heal the sick. John calls these miracles “signs” because through these miracles brought healing to people who needed healing, the main purpose of the miracles was to point to Jesus and show that He was Who He said He was, He had the authority to do what He was doing and teach what He was teaching, and to show that Jesus was ushering in a totally new reality, a new realm, in which “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Mt. 11:5). Now is there anybody who does not want to live in a kingdom like that?
If we turn to Mark’s account of the Feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6, we see that Jesus began teaching them: “So he began teaching them many things” (Mk. 6:32b). And this is a pattern that we often see in the Gospel accounts where Jesus does miracles and then He teaches the people because Jesus wanted people to be deeply rooted in the new way of living that He was sharing with them.
Going back to John’s account, the second thing that we notice is that there is a Crisis: When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5). This was a very large crowd. We are told that there was 5,000 men plus women and children, so there was probably about 15,000 people there that day. It was late in the day, about the time when people normally eat, so they are likely getting hungry. The crisis is about how to feed all these people.
And Jesus’ followers do what any of us would have done. They present solutions out of what they know, which is the kingdom of this world. This leads to a Clash of Kingdoms as solutions from two realms are presented. And the first “kingdom of this world” solution that Jesus’ followers present is to send the people away to get food. Mark describes this for us in Mark 6:35-36: “By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” And Jesus’ response to this proposed solution is “You give them something to eat” (v. 37).
Now Jesus is not being difficult or stubborn here. He realizes that this is a teachable moment and He wants to teach His disciples, and us, something that is very, very important. And what Jesus wants to teach us is that there is a difference between how things are done in Jesus’ kingdom and how they are done in the world. And Jesus wants us to know, and even trust, that things are valued differently in Jesus’ kingdom than they are in the kingdom of this world.
Jesus’ followers then offer a second “kingdom of this world” solution, which is raise money to buy food. Back in John’s account, we read, “Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7). Some translations translate the value mentioned in this passage as “two hundred silver coins” or “two hundred denarii.” Each of these coins would be a day’s wage, so we could say that is about $30,000 in today’s money and using that amount to try to feed 15,000 people would only enable you to get a small order of fries for each person and that would be if you were ordering from the $2 menu. It would not be enough to satisfy their hunger.
Philip is implying, by the way that he presents his solution, that he doesn’t really believe that such a solution is possible. This is probably much more money than they have in the common purse that Jesus and His disciples shared and given the lateness of the day, there wasn’t enough time to raise more money to buy food. What Philip is really doing is protesting against Jesus’ suggestion that the disciples give the people something to eat. What we can learn from this is that the kingdom of this world does not really have solutions to the problems of this world.
It is only when the powerlessness of the kingdom of the world is made evident do people become open to Jesus’ kingdom. Now that His followers are open to a new possibility, Jesus presents a real solution to the crisis which comes from His kingdom. John describes the scene for us: Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:8-9). Here we have an insignificant person. While children were valued in this culture, their contributions were not. You had to be an adult to make a contribution that counted for something in those days. We have insignificant resources, that is, the boy’s lunch of five small barley loaves and two fish. We have insignificant quality. It was only poor people in that culture that ate bread made from barley flour. The upper classes ate bread made from wheat flour. In the kingdom of this world, there was little value here. And yet, look what happens: Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). The Good Shepherd made the sheep lie down in green pastures. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. (John 6:10-13)
This is a feeding miracle like the miraculous supply of manna in the desert for the Israelites after they left Egypt several centuries before. God is telling the people that there is something special happening here with Jesus.
The baskets referred to here were containers that people in that time took with them on a journey to carry their food. A lunchbox or a backpack would be something similar today. The gathering of the unused food resulted in each of the disciples having their traveling food basket filled for their ongoing journey with Jesus. What Jesus did is bless an insignificant gift of insignificant quality from an insignificant person and use it to miraculously feed thousands of people and have enough extra food for the disciples to eat in the days ahead. This miracle was so significant to the early church that it is the only miracle besides the resurrection to be included in all four biographies of the life of Jesus. This means that there is something very important for us here.
And I think that the important thing in this passage for us today is this question: Who is going to be your king? I don’t mean a king in the way that the people who ate that day meant it when they wanted to make Jesus a king by force. They didn’t really want Jesus to be their king. They only wanted His bread. All of us do this sometimes. We don’t really want Jesus to be our king, we only want the good stuff that Jesus can give us.
Consider one feature of how the Christian Church was described when it was brand new. Luke tells us in Acts 2:42, They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Now consider the Housing Crisis that exists in the Lower Mainland of BC. We have a large crowd of people living in the Lower Mainland, 2.5 million by some estimates. Housing values have risen so dramatically that there are two classes of people in the Lower Mainland. There are “haves,” those who purchased real estate 10 or more years ago, and the “have nots,” those who didn’t purchase real estate or only did so recently. Now consider this question: How are the younger generations going to afford to pay the cost of social programs for aging boomers like myself and also afford the cost of housing for themselves and the families that they will want to have? What kingdom are we going to trust in and rely upon as we seek to develop solutions to this crisis, the kingdom of the world or Jesus’ kingdom? Here is the thing that will happen whenever we face a crisis: it will expose the idols that we have in our hearts. I know that the attitudes that I have in my heart around this issue are exposing my idols because what I want is to hang onto all the value that I have in my home, so I can have all that I need for the rest of my life. But that attitude indicates that money is my god, not Jesus.
The kingdom of this world does not have solutions to the problems of this world. What this world needs is a new kingdom with a new King. It starts with you and me and it starts today. Jesus is inviting you to turn away from your idols, to lay down your desire for and your trust in the things of this world and trust in Him as your King above all else. He wants you to live in His kingdom where small things in His hands have infinite worth and Jesus uses us and our small things to bring immense blessings to others.
I can remember where I was on December 30, 1986, when I first heard the news of the bus crash of the Swift Current Broncos in which four hockey players were killed. And I think that all of us will all remember where we were when we heard the news about the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. The Swift Current crash was terrible. The Humboldt crash was far worse. Fifteen people have lost their lives and several others are in hospital with severe injuries. When a tragedy like this happens, it can seem overwhelming to us because there is nothing that we can do to bring back those people who have lost their lives.
But we are the Church and we actually believe that Jesus has the solutions to the problems of this world. We believe that small things in His hands have infinite worth and that Jesus uses us and our small things to create immense blessings for the people of the world. We believe that Jesus’ kingdom really exists and one day Jesus is going to bring His kingdom to fulfillment and, on that day, the blind will see, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear, and the dead will rise.
So, my encouragement to you is to be the Church, to reflect Jesus’ love into the world around you. And as you do that, you will give others hope. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on April 8, 2018. It is based on John 6:1-15.)