How The Fullness Of Jesus Takes Away All Our Best Excuses
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16
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.” John 6:11-12
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. John 20:21
There are basically two kinds of sermons. There are “come and live” sermons, and there are “go and die” sermons. I long for you to come to Jesus and live. When we come to him and drink him in, we start to live, and there is no other way. And then, after he re-oxygenates us, he sends us out to go and die to our selfishness and serve others, because he will help us moment-by-moment. We don’t need to see in advance how it’s all going to go. We just dive in, obeying his call, because he will never fail us. So this sermon today is both “come and live” and “go and die.” And if you are new to Immanuel, I am happy for you to sit and rest and inhale and be quiet before the Lord and take time to heal way down deep. May of us came to Immanuel wounded and exhausted. If that’s you today, we feel privileged that you are here. You’re under no pressure. Let us serve you, as Jesus gives you your life back. But if the Lord has restored your soul, this sermon will call you to go prove it.
A couple of thoughts as we start out. First, this miracle of feeding so many people with five Twinkies and two sardines – this story is the truth of John 1:16 acted out in real life. “From his fullness, his plenty, his abundance, we have all received, grace upon grace.” Yesterday he poured out upon you grace from his fullness, and he wasn’t diminished at all. He gladly brought his fullness into your need. But that was yesterday. And you need fresh grace for today. So do I. And today he’s pouring out upon us all grace upon grace, today’s grace on top of yesterday’s grace. And tomorrow, still more. Our need is big. His supply is bigger. Our part in his miracle is simple. We hold out the empty hands of faith. Jesus loves to fill empty hands. John chapter 6 tells that story, linking back to John chapter 1.
This story also links forward with the end of John’s Gospel. In chapter 20 Jesus says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). How did the Father send Jesus to us? With his peace and healing and restoration, to give us our lives back. The Father sent his mercy into the deepest places of our shame. And as the Father sent Jesus so long ago, even so Jesus is sending us today. He is sending us into our world with his peace. We have new priorities, new intentionality, new courage and sacrifice, to bring his peace to more people. Here’s the best part. We also go with his fullness. He won’t leave us high and dry. He will supply everything we’re going to need, moment-by-moment, to do his will for his glory, and he will never fail us.
Now as we come to John chapter 6, be careful! This passage undermines our best excuse for holding out. Our best excuse goes something like this: “But who am I? What can I do? I’m not rich. I’m not talented. I’m not famous. I’m a small person in a world of huge need, and what can I do?” That’s a good excuse, because there is truth in it. We are small. The needs of the world are huge. What difference can we make in this mess called the world today? Why not admit that we’re defeated, and just fold our hands, do nothing, and wait it out? After all, the Savior of the world is so limited by us, isn’t he?
God put John chapter 6 in the Bible to free us from that whole way of thinking. Sure, our smallness is real. But what if Jesus gets involved? Let’s quit thinking as if our limitations make Jesus stop and say, “Well, what do I do now?” He has grace upon grace for you and me and every person we will ever meet. Why not believe it and rejoice and take a risk?
We see three human profiles on the landscape here in John 6. We see the disciples, the crowds, and the boy. The helpful one among them is the boy. He gives to the Lord what he has, his little lunch, and the Lord does something amazing with it. Let’s look more closely.
Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” John 6:7
The Lord asked Philip where to buy bread, because Philip had grown up in this part of the country (John 1:44). He knew the area well, but he didn’t know Jesus well. Look at the way he thinks: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Philip counts heads, does the math, and gives the Lord an estimate – 200 denarii. The New International Version actually does the conversion for us with its translation: “eight months’ wages.” And the disciples don’t have that kind of money lying around, obviously. In fact, what Philip says here is so obvious, it’s not as though Jesus needed to be told. Verse 6 says that Jesus asked the question to test Philip, to pull up out of Philip how he really thinks, how he really responds to the impossibilities of life, so that he can start thinking in a new way. But here is Philip’s brilliant conclusion: “It can’t be done!”
Do you realize that the gospel changes how we think? If it doesn’t change how we think, we will always conclude, “It can’t be done.” The Lord is testing our faith with real impossibilities. But here is our new thought: What if John 1:16 is true? What if Jesus really does have a fullness for real people in real need? When we think in terms of Jesus, we will always find a way to glorify him. He will open the way.
We Christians talk about living by faith. Good. The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). In other words, we adjust our expectations to include what only God can do, and we reject every thought that leaves God out. That is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. If insanity is not connecting with reality, then Philip is a little bit crazy here. I’m sure he saw himself as a hardheaded realist. So does every atheist. But wisdom includes God. We are not on this planet to get by somehow; we are here to experience God. He is thinking of us; let’s be thinking of him. Let’s stop thinking like orphans and fugitives and atheists. We are the children of the heavenly Father. He cares about our hunger and mess. He cares about the hunger and the mess of our world. And he wants to pour his fullness into us, so that we end up amazed at what we’ve done in service for others because God entered in. Sure, we get tired. When God pours out his Spirit, we still get tired. We are weak. We shed tears. We fight battles. We get wounded. And we admit our weakness. But the Bible teaches us to say, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). The whole point of our lives is the all-sufficiency of Jesus for real people living and dying in this real world. The apostle Paul said, “I am what I am by the grace of God, and his grace toward me was not in vain. I worked harder . . ., though it was not I but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul was saying, “My life isn’t easy. But it’s a privilege to be used by God.” So many of us know exactly what he’s talking about. I want all of us to experience that wonderful privilege. Millions of people through the centuries have experienced the energizing grace of God, and they have accomplished things for God that surprised even them. I remember watching the wonderful PBS series by Ken Burns about the Civil War. In 1913, Northern and Southern veterans held a reunion at Gettysburg to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of that battle. As they walked around the places where they had fought as young men, they were amazed by their own memories. “Did I really charge that line of guns? Did I really leap over that stone wall under heavy fire?” They could hardly believe the facts of what they themselves had done. Oh, God wants you to experience the joy of that, the wonder of that, in the battle of our times. So let’s think in a new way, rejoicing to move forward in the power of the Lord. I wish Philip had added just one word to verse 7: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. Duh!” Philip wasn’t wrong to notice the obvious. I wish he had added in the divine, because Jesus was standing right there with him, as he is standing with us. Let’s think by faith and walk by faith.
You and I aren’t here to do the do-able. We’re here to be living proof of what only God can do. Philip could have said, “Lord, I have no idea how you’re going to feed all these hungry people. The hour is late. The need is urgent. It’s getting worse all the time. But somehow, with you here, there is an answer. I’ll probably end this day exhausted from serving you. But I don’t care, because I’ll be happy. I might be so happy I’ll be close to tears, because somehow you’re going to use me as your fullness reaches their need. I’m all in.” Philip didn’t say that. But we can. Will you say that to your Savior today? He is glorious in his fullness. The world is desperate in its need. And we are available to the living Christ. What a glorious day to be alive and serve the Lord in ways that will amaze even us!
Perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:15
The crowds loved Jesus! He was all the rage. Here was a man who could do anything, a man with no end to his abilities! What a great king he would make! He could kick the Romans out and restore Israel’s greatness! Let’s elect him president! He’s not excited about that? He must not know what’s good for him. He’ll get used to it. He’ll even like it. Let’s crown him king right now and ride this wave to a bright future for our nation!
If the disciples were clueless, so were the crowds. Do we realize there is a kind of popularity Jesus doesn’t want? Do we realize there is a kind of power Jesus doesn’t need? In previous generations Christians had a category that we today have almost forgotten. They called it “worldliness.” It’s a mentality, and a whole way of life, that prizes cheap things and despises precious things. Earlier generations sometimes misunderstood worldliness, they sometimes became legalistic, but they knew there was a danger. The Bible says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). What an amazing command in the Bible: “Do not love . . . .” The Bible commands us not to love? Yes. Do not love the world!
What is that about? What’s the danger? It isn’t the world as God created it. The Bible is not warning us against the Grand Canyon and symphony orchestras and deer season. The Bible is warning us against human popularity and power. The world would make Jesus king today in a heartbeat, as long as he would bless the false ideals of human popularity and power. But the world showed its true colors when it crucified Jesus. So “the world” we must not love is what we 1960s ex-hippies used to call The Establishment, The System. How can we love the system that crucified Jesus? Worldliness is kissing up to the world’s strategies for popularity and power that would make even Jesus king – if he wouldn’t change anything.
Here in John 6, these crowds don’t hate Jesus. They love him. But they love him as a steppingstone for their own dream world. And when they realized he had a kingdom of his own, they turned on him. The Bible says, “He came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). So what did the Lord do? Verse 15: “Jesus withdrew.” Those are some of the saddest words in all the Bible. But the Bible also says, “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the whole earth, that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
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?” John 6:8-9
He was just a boy. All he had was five small loaves with two little fish. But he gave it all to Jesus. And the Lord took it. Jesus didn’t despise the boy’s small gift. He received it and thanked the Father for it. Verse 11: “And when he had given thanks.” I am guessing Jesus also thanked the boy. I can just see him bending down and looking this wee boy in the eyes and saying, “Hey friend, what’s your name? Jacob. Great name! Thank you for your lunch. Did your mom make this for you? It looks yummy. I just love bread and fish. Well, I’m going to take your lunch now and use it to feed these people. But don’t you worry. I won’t let you go hungry. Watch this!” I’m speculating, but it’s consistent with what we know for sure about Jesus. And any small gift, given fully to him, becomes in his hands more than it is. You might not have much to offer him today. But whatever you do have, it’s always enough for Jesus to make something beautiful of it.
So the Bible says the people ate as much as they wanted (verse 11). They ate their full (verse 12). In my mind’s eye, I can just see it happening, can’t you? There is one of his disciples – they were passing the food around – there is one of the disciples, breaking off pieces of bread and fish, and every time he reaches back to the plate to break off more, he finds just as much bread and fish as there was seconds before. So this disciple gives some to a man sitting there who was really hungry, and the man eagerly takes some, and he looks up into the face of that disciple and says, “May I have some more?” And the disciple says, “Sure,” and gives him more. And the man is stuffing it into his mouth as quickly as he can and says, “More?” And the disciple gives him more. And this goes on, until the man has eaten as much as he wanted. He ate his fill. He ate until he could eat no more. And so it was, for everyone. And they still had to clean up the leftovers. The twelve disciples walked away from that miracle weighed down with twelve baskets of food for themselves. Only Jesus can do that.
Dear ones, the world today is hungry. Only Jesus has the fullness they are dying for. They don’t see his fullness. But he sees their need. And he has chosen to care for them through us. As the Father sent him, even so he has sent us. Our part is to be like this boy and give him our tiny all. We will never give him anything that makes him say, “Wow, that’s impressive. You’re really helping me out!” No, it is all of his grace, for his glory alone. But we must let go of our excuses. I know my problem. I’m selfish, lazy and scared. But that isn’t the gospel, is it? We walk by faith, not by sight. By faith in our unlimited Lord Jesus, let’s decide today to care for someone for his sake. Let’s give our lives away.
Do you know the joy, a joy so intense it sometimes makes you weep, the joy of his love flowing through you into someone else’s life? We can have it, right here in our desperate times. Moderate Christianity knows nothing of that joy. But faith-enlarged Christianity will make the real Jesus non-ignorable. And we will experience his supply moment-by-moment, as we need it. There will be struggle. There will be hardship. But the Lord will be faithful to us.
Why not start right where you are? Start with your home, your apartment, your dorm room. Open it up. Let someone in. They might wonder, Am I accepted here? Prove to them that Jesus loves them. Open your home for community. You don’t need a church program. You just need to be open to Jesus. There is no end to his love for you and for every person you welcome into your life. Do we really believe that Jesus is full of blessing for our generation? Do we really believe that people without Jesus are going to hell? What are we going to do about it? Simplify your life. Cut out the commitments that leave no room for community. Why gripe about the greedy materialism of our times, if we haven’t laid down before the Lord our little slice of the economic pie? Ask the Lord to bring into your life and your leisure hours and your space the people he wants you to care for by his power. Yes, take precautions. But also take risks. Stop thinking Jesus makes life easier. Jesus makes life harder and infinitely glorious. How glorious it is to live out of his fullness for the benefit of others, especially people nobody else cares about. And as you live this way, you will quickly see that you are the one God is blessing. You will feel that God is giving you the gift. You will realize, “The fullness of Jesus pouring into me and through me – how can I bear such glorious privilege?”
The world is hungry. But Jesus is full. And we are being sent to spread his blessing. What a privilege!