THE BREAD OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-14-87 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message from the sixth chapter of John entitled Jesus, the Bread of Life. The message is divided into two parts: the first is a homily, and the second will be a message from the Scriptures that we have “homiletized.” Someone asked me this week, “What is a homily?” A homily is the taking of a passage of Scripture and commenting on it verse by verse. Our word “homiletics” comes from that “homily,” taking the Bible and expounding upon it verse by verse. So the first part is a homily.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of John: which, by the way, recounts a miracle; the only one that is presented by all four Gospel writers, the feeding of the five thousand [John 6:1-14]. It begins with a vast multitude [John 6:2]. In the northern part of Galilee, our Lord is in Capernaum, the city of Capernaum. And while ministering to the throngs in Capernaum, He gets in a boat with His disciples, and He crosses over the sea to the eastern shore [John 6:1].
Now the multitude is there because, the Bible says, because of the Passover [John 6:4]. From the ends of the Roman Empire, the faithful Jews came into Palestine. And this being in the northern part of the country, they were flooded with Jews from Mesopotamia, particularly from Babylon, into which they had been carried captivity in the centuries before. So the country and its cities were thronged and filled with great multitudes of worshiping faithful Jews.
Now when they saw the Lord get in a boat and go to the other side of the sea, the multitudes walked around the head of the sea, beyond Bethsaida, waiting for Jesus to arrive on the other side. Now when they were there in their multitudinous numbers, why, verse 5 says, “Jesus lifted up His eyes, and saw that great company” [John 6:5]. Jesus lifted up His eyes and looked upon that vast throng.
Anytime you see a great concourse of people it is impressive. That mass of humanity, whether it’s a mob in turbulent anger, in tumultuous reaction, or whether it’s a marching army, or whether it is that great gathering in one of our vast stadiums, or whether—and I shall never forget the first time I was in Paris and the first time I was in Tokyo, those thousands and thousands of people on the streets of those great cities. They are always impressive, always. And anyone who in the academic world or in political life or in military responsibility can never forget that mass of people. If he is a philosopher he must remember them; if he’s a military strategist he must remember them; if he is a medical scientist, or a researcher, he must remember those masses of people.
You have a poignant illustration of that this very moment, when from one side of the scientific medical world to the other, they’re trying to find an answer to AIDS, and to herpes, and to venereal disease, because of the masses of people that are involved in that awesome confrontation. Or whether it is a theologian, whether he’s a minister in the church, he must remember that great mass of people into which God has placed his life and lot. So it is with our Lord Jesus. He lifts up His eyes, and looks upon them [John 6:5].
Now may I show you how different the Lord is in that? This same story is recorded by Matthew and Mark, and the disciples come to the Lord Jesus when they looked, and they said to the Lord: “Send them away! Send them away!” [Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:36].
But our Lord said, “Nay, they need not depart. Feed them!” [Matthew 14:16].
What a difference: “Send them away!” “Nay, feed them!” Some wouldn’t even look, hide their eyes, turn their faces. Not our Lord. He looked upon them and said, “Feed them!” [Matthew 14:16].
And that brings me to a first announcement and appeal in the life of our church regarding something dear to my heart. We are filled with street people, these who wander, drifters. And as our city grows, they grow in multitudinous numbers. There are thousands of them. They come to the city, and because we’re downtown, in the heart of this great metroplex, they come here. There’s no day, I suppose there’s no hour, that they’re not here, these street people from the ends of the earth.
Some would say, “Forget them! Send them away!” Turn our faces and our backs on them.” But there are some of us who say, “Let’s feed them. Let’s take care of them. Let’s clothe them. Let’s win them to the Lord! Let’s tell them about our Savior!” And we have a like inner city mission just there, one block that way, three blocks that way. We preach the gospel to them every day. We baptize them every day. We feed them every day. We clothe them every day. Four of those preachers in our school are there, having been won out of that flotsam and jetsam of humanity. It is a ministry that God has peculiarly and unusually given to us, ministering to these street people.
So the first Sunday in October, we are going to have an opportunity, as a congregation, to respond to that need. We don’t have a place for them, the place we now use is given to us day at a time. It could be taken away any moment, any day. Right down that street, we’re going to buy a piece of property. It costs $310,000. And it takes $150,000 to remodel it so we can use it to feed them, and clothe them, and preach the gospel to them, and baptize them. And on the first Sunday in October we are all going to have an opportunity to help in that ministry.
I’ve inquired here and there and yonder. And every time I’ve asked about it I’ve had that same response: “Pastor, there’s not anything that you could ever do that would give our people greater delight or joy than to have a part in a ministry like that.” So come the first Sunday in October, we’ll take up an offering and we’re going to buy that property. And we’ll remake it and we will use it for the throngs of street people that come into the city of Dallas. We’ll feed them; we’ll clothe them; we’ll preach the gospel to them; we’ll baptize them; we’ll send them on their way with a joy and a gladness in their hearts. That’s the Lord Jesus! He saw them. He lifted up His eyes, and looked upon them [John 6:5].
Then in that throng, in that throng He sees and He meets a little boy, a lad [John 6:9]. How remarkable. In the throngs and the multitudes, He sees you! There are four billion people in this earth, and the Lord looks at you. He knows you. He calls you by name [John 10:3]. He knows all about you. What a remarkable thing! Our Lord, sensitive to one somebody you. He was always like that.
One of the most unusual stories you could ever read in the life of any man, much less the life of our Lord, there was a woman who had an issue of blood and the physicians could not heal her. She said in her heart, “If I can but touch the tassel of His robe, the hem of His garment, I will be healed” [Matthew 9:20-21]. And she came from behind Him, and reached forth her hand, and touched the hem of His garment: and immediately she felt herself whole [Luke 8:43-44].
And the Lord said, Who touched Me?
And Simon Peter, the pragmatist, said: Master, they throng Thee and press Thee on every side, and You say, Who touched Me?
But the Lord said, Someone touched Me: for I perceive that virtue, dunamis, strength is gone out of Me.
And that healed woman confessed, It was I. I touched You that I might be well.
That’s the Lord, pressed and thronged by the multitudes, uncounted numbers on every side, He knows you, and is sensitive to you.
A lad, in the midst of a throng of at least twelve thousand people, five thousand men [John 6:10], and women and children. So He took from the willing hands of the little boy a small lunch. Five little barley muffins, and two little anchovies, sardines [John 6:9], just a little lunch that apparently his mother had prepared for the lad, willingly placing it in the Lord’s hands. There’s nothing in the Scriptures that even suggest that coercively the disciples forced the boy to give it to the Lord. Placing it in the Lord’s omnipotent hands, Jesus took the little lunch, and gave thanks [John 6:11].
The most common picture I have seen in the homes of the people, and I see it everywhere, there’s an old man seated bowing his head in thanksgiving before a piece of bread. Remember that? How beautiful. How moving. I went through a great art gallery one time, and the painting that meant the most to me, a poor, poor, poor cottage, a poor family; the father is bowed before their scant supply, and the mother on the other side of the table and the children around, and he is expressing thanks for their meager fare. And above him the artist has painted a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus up above him. And His hands are extended in blessing over their little family.
That’s our Lord! Over so little, giving thanks. And He distributes to the disciples and the disciples to the people [John 6:11]. What a remarkable thing that is exhibited there, described there, the Lord associating Himself with those disciples, using them. Why would He use them? Why associate us with His work? He is so omnipotent, and all sufficient, and all adequate, and all powerful; why depend upon us? Why didn’t He just rain down manna from heaven? God did that in the desert, in the wilderness [Exodus 16:4, 14-15]. Why didn’t He just rain down manna from heaven and feed that multitude? [John 6:5, 9-11]. Why use the disciples to distribute, to distribute, to distribute? Why does He always do that, using us?
I think of the omnipotence of God when the Lord stood at the grave at the tomb of Lazarus, and in His all-powerfulness said, “Lazarus, come forth!” Who could raise the dead but the omnipotent, all-powerful God? He did that. “Lazarus, come forth.” And he that had been dead four days walked out of that sepulcher, bound with grave clothes. And the Lord says to His disciples, “Loose him, and let him go” [John 11:43-44].
“Why, Master, all-powerful, omnipotent as You are, You mean You have to have feeble hands of these disciples to unloosen the clothes? Having raised the dead, You need these disciples, feeble, inadequate, human, to loose him? You associate us with You in Your great dynamic work?”
You see it again, and again, and again. Simon Peter, “The tax collector demands of us a shekel, a half for you and a half for Me, tribute to Caesar.” “Simon, go to the lake and cast in the hook, and catch a fish, and on the inside of the fish’s mouth, you will find a silver shekel, a half for your tax and a half for Mine” [Matthew 17:24-27]. Why use Simon Peter going fishing? Why couldn’t He have done that omnipotently, just take out of the sky, out of the air, a shekel and give it to Caesar?
He always does that, He uses us. And without us our Lord seems to be impotent and unable. He chooses to associate us in all of His ministries in the world. The gospel is not preached if we don’t preach it, and the church is not built if we don’t build it, and the people are not fed if we don’t feed them, and they aren’t clothed if we don’t clothe them, and the children are not brought up in the admonition and the love of the Lord if we don’t bring them up [Ephesians 6:4]. God associates us with all of His mighty ministries.
So the people are seated [John 6:10]. You’ll not be listening to the voice of God in the clamor and the noise and the bustle and the hurriedness of daily life. You’ve got to quit. You’ve got to be quiet. As the psalmist said, “Be still, and know that I am God” [Psalm 46:10]. All day long they have been arguing and contending, some of them said, “He is an imposter.” Some of them said, “He is the Son of God.” And with flushed faces, and flashing eyes, and loud words, and gesticulations, and gestures, and hurried feet, all day long they have been busy walking and talking and confronting, but as the day wore on and the sun is hot and they become tired and hungry, they are seated. And calm now replaces noise, and meditation now replaces confusion and argument, and seated, the Lord has opportunity to feed them [John 6:11].
We are like that. And in all of the bustle and hurriedness of life, there has to be a time when we are quiet before the Lord, so He can talk to us and we can hear His voice, when we can feed on His Word.
Now, he uses a word here that we must not pass, “And when they were filled” [John 6:12]. “When they were filled.” Let’s not forget or overlook that word: when they were filled, filled. Isn’t that like God? He doesn’t just barely save us, and there’s nothing beside. God not only saves us, but all through the years of our pilgrimage, God ministers to us, and sustains us, and He feeds us. Why, sweet people, I’m seventy-seven years old. He converted me; He brought me to Himself when I was ten. But that little ten-year-old junior boy who gave himself to Jesus in confession, and repentance, and acceptance, and faith, and forgiveness, why, my brother, that was just the beginning of the sweet ministries of our precious Lord. And every day they are renewed, and every step of the way they are increased.
He fills us! Not just barely with enough, but over and abounding and beside. And each one of those apostles took home with him a basket of the bread, multiplied over and above [John 6:12-13]. That’s God!
Now the second part of the message: that miracle that we’ve just homiletized [John 6:1-14], that miracle is repeated every day. It is a parable of human life. The great hungry multitudes, and God taking just a little, and blessing it for their feeding, their sustenance, their strength, their salvation, God does it throughout history and every day.
Think of the all-powerful Roman Empire. That vast Mediterranean Sea with its many nations around it, all under a Caesar that they were commanded to worship as God. Think of the darkness of that heathenism, and against it, and confronting it, a lone convert out of the Pharisees named Saul of Tarsus; think of the whole vast empire and that one lone preacher [Acts 9:3-18].
Or think of this day when there was not a missionary in the earth, not one, and William Carey, one man of God, and he a shoe cobbler, sent to the whole darkened world; how little against so much.
Or think of David Livingstone in the vast darkened continent of Africa, just he.
Or think of Lottie Moon—if she were here in this pulpit, she’s so little that you couldn’t see her over that pulpit stand, against the billions in China.
God taking so little and using it so much; as Zechariah says, “We are not to despise the day of small things [Zechariah 4:10]. If I do what I can, God will do what I can’t.
Reading in Bunyan, John Bunyan, our Baptist preacher in England, John Bunyan; one of the passages in Bunyan he describes a man who has a roll of cloth. And he unrolls the cloth and he clothes the poor, and he unrolls the cloth and he clothes the poor, and he unrolls the cloth and he clothes the poor. And he keeps on unrolling the cloth, and the more he unrolls the roll, the bigger the roll is. And Bunyan remarks, “There was a man, and they called him mad; the more he gave away, the more he had.” That’s God! That’s the Lord!
And that is the Lord, and this lad, and his little lunch [John 6:9-13]. With him, with the lad, it was nothing at all. He could have eaten it, nothing beyond. But in Christ’s hands, giving it to the Lord, what the Lord could do with it! That’s God, with all of our small limitations, and our halting and feeble powers; give them to Him, and see God use it.
He is that, the Omnipotent. In the days of Elijah, the handful of meal did not waste, and the small spoonful of oil did not diminish [1 Kings 17:8-16]. God multiplied it. The whole world is like that: these little raindrops, and these little sunbeams, and these small seed, and God feeds the world with it. That’s God! And He is like that in all of His ministries, all of them. It’s remarkable how Jesus teaches us. He will take the commonest things and make them everlastingly spiritually significant. He will talk about the birds of the air [Luke 9:58], and He will talk about the flowers or the lilies of the fields [Luke 12:27], or He will talk about His sheep [John 10:3-16, 26-30], or He will talk about a coin that is lost [Luke 15:8-10], or He will talk about a sower [Matthew 13:3-8]; or He will talk about a reaper [John 4:35-38]; these, the commonest, the smallest things, and He uses them for infinite spiritual purposes and lessons. That’s Jesus.
And the same thing characterizes His ministry. Blindness He will make into blessedness [John 9:25]; lameness He will make into strength [Mark 2:11-12]; a halting, hesitating spirit He will make dynamic for Him [Matthew 9:32-33]. Do you remember the word of Paul in the twelfth chapter of  Corinthians, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in my weaknesses, my infirmities . . . for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:10]. The smallest and the humblest gift offered to Him—a word, hands, feet, heart, life, witness, God uses it and God magnifies it.
Our Lord is in heaven. Has He lost that wondrous power of multiplying since the days of His flesh, now that He is at the throne of grace? [Hebrews 4:14-16]. Oh, sweet people, no! God is still doing that. He is still taking our small inadequacies and magnifying them to the blessing of the people.
It is as Paul said, “I can do—I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” [Philippians 4:13]. Why, my brother, he’s in jail; he’s incarcerated; he’s bound to a Roman soldier, or he’s in stocks and chains [Acts 26:29]. Yet he says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” [Philippians 4:13]. Taking our little and multiplying in His omnipotent hands; O my friend, what a blessing He can make out of you, if you give yourself to the Lord Jesus.
Now, may we pray? Our Savior: made out of the dust of the ground [Psalm 103:14], feeble even in our highest dynamic strength, we bring to Thee what we have. We place, Lord, in Thy hands our daily lives, our eternal souls, our immortal spirits. And we ask God to use us, to multiply our feeble gifts, and make us a blessing to others. And our Lord, in this sacred hour may the Holy Spirit bring to Thee these that You have chosen, and through them bring to the multitudes a blessing. In the home, in the family, with the children, in the church, where we are, God, use us. And we will love Thee, Master, for the answer from heaven, and God’s choice of us, in the Savior’s name, amen.
And to the rest of the throng, our ministers will be here, and I will be here. To accept the Lord as your Savior [Romans 10:8-13], to answer the call of the Spirit in your heart, or to bring you family into the fellowship of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25], come. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the throng on the lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I am answering with my life.” Do it. Do it. And may the Holy Spirit and the angels of God attend you in your way while you come, while we stand and while we sing.