JESUS THE BREAD OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-14-87 8:15 a.m.
And we welcome you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Jesus the Bread of Life. It is divided into two parts: the first part is a homily on the first verses of the sixth chapter of John; then the second part is a message from those sacred words. Someone asked me this week, “What is a homily?” A homily is taking the Scripture verse by verse, and speaking of it. Our word “homiletics” comes from it, which is the word for preaching. So let’s begin in the sixth chapter of the Book of John.
Our Lord is in Capernaum, and he says in verse 4 that it is Passover time [John 6:4]. That accounts for the great multitudes in the second verse, “a great multitude” [John 6:2]. From the ends of the Roman Empire the people of the Jewish faith were pouring into Palestine, and particularly up there in the north they were multitudinous in numbers from the Mesopotamian Valley, from Babylon, where they had gone into captivity. And these throngs were listening to the Lord Jesus. And while He was in His ministry at Capernaum, He and His disciples got in a boat and went across the sea, beyond Bethsaida, to the eastern part of the Galilean territory. Now when the multitudes saw the Lord get in that boat and go across to the east, they followed Him on the land; they walked across the land at the head of the lake. So when Jesus is over there on the eastern side, having arrived in a boat, those great throngs were there, walking across from west to east.
Now in verse 5, “Jesus lifted up His eyes, and saw that great company” [John 6:5]. He lifted up His eyes and looked upon that vast multitude. There is something about a great throng of people that is incredibly impressive to a sensitive heart. If it’s a mob tumultuous and angry, or if it’s an army marching in step, or if it’s that vast concourse in an incredibly large stadium, or—I could never forget the first time I was in Paris and the first time I was in Tokyo, the vast numbers of people in the streets of those cities; I could never forget. There is something impressive about a great multitude of people. And that is to be remembered by any man who seriously thinks in terms of a meaning or a message to the mass of humanity; he must keep it in mind. A philosopher, or a military strategist, or a medical research scientist, or a sociologist, or a theologian, he can’t do well or think well unless he keeps in his mind that great mass of humanity. And our Lord was particularly sensitive to those people. That throng; “Jesus moved with compassion” [Matthew 14:14]; He felt their need.
He was so different from the disciples, His apostles. As this story is told in Matthew and Mark—by the way, it’s the only parable recounted in all four of the Gospel writers—as Mark and Matthew tell the story, the disciples come to the Lord Jesus and say to Him, “Send them away. Send them away. Send them away” [Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:36]. Most of humanity is like that: we hide our eyes from the people and their needs, and we harden our hearts against their appeals, like the disciples; “Send them away.” But our Lord is so different: “Feed them,” He says, “they need not depart [Matthew 14:16]. Take care of them, minister to them.” That’s our Lord. And I’m calling our church into a tremendous ministry that I think pleases Jesus.
As the city of Dallas grows, the street people, the floaters, vastly increase. They are here by the thousands. Our church is in the heart of this great city; God placed us here. And those street people, hungry and dirty and needy, they come to our church; they’re here every day. They’ll always be here at this church. Our people can say to the pastor, “Now, pastor, we’re going to close our eyes. We’re not going to look. And when they come, we’re going to send them away. We’re going to put signs on these doors, ‘Don’t you come here.’ We’re going to put placards facing our streets, ‘There’s no one here interested in you. You go away.’” We could do that. But that’s not our hearts; we’re not like that. What we’re going to say to these street people is, “We have a place for you. We’re going to feed you, and we’re going to clothe you, and we’re going to try to tell you about a new life in the Lord. And we’re going to lift you up, and encourage you.”
We have that ministry now; we don’t have a place for the people. We don’t own it, and it could be taken away from us any minute. On the first Sunday in October, we’re going to give our people an open door to help us buy a property. We’ve already made arrangements for it on Ross Avenue, so that when the street people come here to us, as we do now, “You go one block that way and you go three blocks that way, and we’ll take care of you. We’ll help you.” Four of those street people that we’ve won to the Lord are over here in our theological school right now, studying to be preachers preaching the gospel. I have been told on every hand, “Pastor, don’t hesitate to give us an opportunity to do that.” So I have thought that on the first Sunday in October, we’ll give our people an opportunity, and we’ll all share. The property we have, just down there on Ross Avenue, costs $311,000. It will take $150,000 to make it usable for us in ministering to those people; $461,000, and we’ll ask God for it, and give our people an opportunity. There’s not anything that appeals to me more than that.
That’s what our Lord is like. The disciples say, “Send them away” [Matthew 14:15]. The Lord says, “No, they need not depart. Feed them, feed them, be good to them, take care of them, preach the gospel to them” [Matthew 14:16]. That’s our Lord; and we want to be like Him.
So one of the disciples points out to the Lord, “There is a lad here” [John 6:9]. What an amazing thing again about our Savior. In that vast throng there were five thousand men; there must have been twelve thousand people at least. In that vast throng He sees a little boy, a lad. That is so typical again of our Savior: in the vast throngs of humanity, He sees you. However many billions there are in this earth, He looks at you; He sees you. May I take out of the gospel story an emphatic and traumatic illustration of that?
There was a woman with an issue of blood and no physician could help her. Then she said in her heart, “If I could just touch the hem of His garment, I would be healed” [Matthew 9:20-21]. And in the press and the throng of the people, she came behind Him and reached forth her hand, and touched a tassel from His robe. And immediately she was healed [Luke 8:43-44]. But the Lord said, “Who touched Me?” And Peter replied, “Lord, they throng Thee and press Thee on every side, and You say, Who touched Me?” [Luke 8:45]. And the Lord replied, “But I perceive virtue, dunamis, strength is gone out of Me; somebody touched Me” [Luke 8:45-46]. Isn’t that amazing? Out of the throngs that surrounded Him, and the multitudes that pressed Him, He was sensitive to that dear woman. “Somebody touched Me” [Luke 8:46]. That’s the Lord.
In that vast throng He sees a little boy. And the little boy has a lunch. Five loaves made out of barley, five little biscuits, five little muffins, and two anchovies, two little sardines [John 6:9]. That was his lunch. So the little lad willingly placed them in the hands of our Savior. And verse 11, “Jesus gave thanks [John 6:11]. Jesus gave thanks,” over a little lunch like that. Yes. Yes.
I have not seen a picture in people’s houses so numerous times as the picture of that old man bowed before a piece of bread. Haven’t you seen it? It’s just everywhere. I was in a museum one time, and the picture that blessed me most was a poor family, and the father has his head bowed, and the mother and the children there, and the artist had drawn a picture of Jesus, unseen to them; they have their heads bowed in thanksgiving, and the artist had drawn a picture of Jesus up there up above the table, and His hands are extended in blessing. That’s wonderful! And that’s our Lord. He gave thanks, and then He brake and gave to the disciples; and they ministered to the people [John 6:11].
I want you to look at that just for a second. Why in the world would the Lord want to use the disciples like that, and constantly using them like that? In the passage that we read the Jewish multitude said, “The Lord rained down manna from heaven in the wilderness, in the desert” [Exodus 16:4, 14-15]. Why didn’t He do that here, just send down manna from heaven? Why use these disciples to break bread and to give to the people? [John 6:11]. The Lord was doing that always. Look again: in omnipotence—and it took omnipotence to achieve it, to do it—with omnipotent power the Lord said to Lazarus, “Come forth!” And he that was dead came forth, wrapped in his grave clothes. Then the Lord says, “Loose him, and let him go” [John 11:43-44]. Why in the earth is it that the omnipotent God can speak and the dead rise, and then in the next verse He uses feeble hands, feeble hands to unloose him? Why doesn’t God unloose him? Why these feeble hands?
Or take again, the Lord is asked for tribute money to pay taxes to Caesar. And the Lord says to Simon Peter, “You go catch a fish, and in the fish’s mouth you will find a shekel for you and Me, the tribute money” [Matthew 17:24-27]. Why does God do that? Why does God use us? Just why doesn’t He do it Himself? So able is He. That’s because we are associated with Him in His work. We are co-laborers with the Lord; and He has chosen it that way. He has given us a part in it. And by the way, when the miracle was done, each one of those apostles took home a basket full of bread [John 6:13]. That’s God! He associates us with Him in the work.
Now I want you to notice one other thing in the homily: it says they were filled. “They were filled” [John 6:12]. That’s an important word, “they were filled.” God not only does just this much, but God does an abounding much; over and beside. That’s God. God not only saves me—and praise the Lord, when I was a junior, when I was ten years old, God saved me—God not only saves me, but God continues to bless me, and to encourage me, and to be with me along the pilgrim way. I marvel at that. I’m seventy-seven years old; I was saved when I was ten years old. But the mercies of God have abounded more and more and more and more. They were filled: not only just enough to stave off hunger; but more and an abounding beside [John 6:12-13]. That’s God.
Now the message. This miracle of the feeding of the five thousand [John 6:1-13] is repeated again and again and again. It is a parable of life. God takes our little and He multiplies it aboundingly. In His hands, omnipotent hands, our little becomes so much. I think of the whole Roman Empire, that all-powerful kingdom, presided over by what they thought was an immortal Caesar. I think of that whole powerful Roman Empire, and a converted Pharisee named Saul against it; just that man, sent out against the whole empire [Acts 9:1-18].
I think of the day in the life of William Carey, when there was not a missionary in the earth, and God sends out that one lone shoe cobbler against the darkness of the earth. Or I think of David Livingstone and the whole continent of darkened Africa. Or I think of Lottie Moon: if she were to stand here behind this pulpit, doubtless you couldn’t see her; she’s a little diminutive woman; Lottie Moon, against the billions of people in China. That’s God, taking our little and making it so much. Remember Zechariah? We are not to despise the thing, 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. In His omnipotent hands a little is so much. And He takes our little and He multiplies it, and He multiplies it, and He multiplies it. In a passage in Bunyan—John Bunyan, our wonderful Baptist preacher in England—in a passage in John Bunyan, he describes a man who has a bolt of cloth, and he unrolls that bolt of cloth, and he clothes the poor. And he unrolls the bolt of cloth, and he clothes the poor. And he keeps on unrolling the bolt of cloth, and he keeps on clothing the poor. And the bolt never diminishes; it just keeps growing. Whereupon John Bunyan remarks, “There was a man, they called him mad; the more he gave away, the more he had.” That’s God.
So in this beautiful story the Lord takes the little lunch of this lad. The Bible doesn’t say the disciples forcibly robbed him of it; he willingly gave it to the Lord. Had he used it for himself, it would have been just a lunch: but given in the omnipotent hands of Christ, O Lord! how God can multiply it! [John 6:7-14].
That’s the way God does. He takes these little things, the simplest things, and He magnifies them in omnipotence: the handful of meal doesn’t waste, and the spoonful of oil in the cruse doesn’t diminish [1 Kings 17:12-16]. The raindrop, the sunbeam, the seed, all of it God takes, and He multiplies it in the earth; He does it. Our Lord was that way in all of His teaching ministry, in all of His healing ministry. In His teaching ministries, He would take the simplest, humblest things, the birds of the air [Matthew 10:29-31], or the flowers of the field [Luke 12:27], the lilies of the field [Matthew 6:28-30; Luke 12:27], or a sheep that was lost [Luke 15:3-7], or a coin that had fallen away [Luke 15:8-11], or someone sowing, or someone reaping [John 4:35-37], all of His teaching is like that: simple, common, humble things. And He would make them into celestial lessons for us. He did that in His healing ministry. Under His hands, blindness was a blessing, and lameness was a strength. And our halting powers were made dynamic under His hands. That’s why Paul will say, in the twelfth chapter of  Corinthians, “I glory in my infirmities: for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:9-10]. Giving our little, whatever we have, to the Lord, and letting God use it: the words, or the heart, or the tongue, or the hands, or the feet, or the days.
“Pastor, you just don’t realize how incapable I am, how unable I am.” That has nothing to do with God’s use of you! He is omnipotent. I may be weak; but He isn’t. I may stumble and stammer; but He doesn’t. I may falter and fail; He never fails. God can do it.
And may I conclude: our dear Lord in heaven has not lost His power. He is the same wonderful Savior in glory, in heaven, looking down on us, as He was in the days of His flesh here in the earth. And He can take our little, dedicated to Him, and He can marvelously magnify it and multiply it and bless it. That’s why Paul could say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” [Philippians 4:13]. When did he say that? When he wrote that to the Philippian church, he was in jail; he was in jail. “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” And our little, however circumscribed it may be, and however impotent it appears to be, however small it actually is, five little biscuits made out of barley, two little anchovies, and they just two, but in God’s hands how mighty to the feeding of the vast multitude [John 6:8-13]. And we can be that in His service.
“What I have, Lord, and what I am able to do, I consecrate to Thee. Bless Thou and magnify it, according to Thy omnipotent grace.” And God does it.
In this moment, we’re going to stand and sing us an appeal. And while we sing the song, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], or to dedicate some gift to the Lord, maybe yourself, or to come into the fellowship of our wonderful church, while we sing this hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. There’s a stairway from the balcony, down one of those stairways; aisles here in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me; and I’m answering with my life.” Do it. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.