Twelve Baskets of Bread and the Walk on Water

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. 22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

What does wind have to do with hunger? One answer is: If you have enough of either of them, they can kill you. If you are in the wilderness and have no access to food, hunger can kill you. And if you are on the sea and have no access to land, wind can kill you.

I recall deep-sea fishing in Florida with my father when I was a teenager. We went out in a trawler—the kind that has four seats at the back with fixed rigs so that if you hook a big one, the pole won’t be jerked out of your hand. We were out of sight of land, and it started to rain. It rained heavier and heavier. As we were huddled under the canopy and the rain was pouring over the floor of the boat, I asked the captain: Is this dangerous?

Wind Is the Danger

I’ve never forgotten his answer, because it seemed so strange at the time, but now makes complete sense. He said, “No. Rain’s no problem. It’s the wind that’s a problem.” If there’s no wind, there are no big waves. And the rainwater just runs off the side of the boat. But if there is wind, the waves get bigger and bigger and there is no protection for a small boat against giant waves.

So hunger can kill you, and wind can kill you. If hunger is about to kill you in the wilderness, you could be saved by someone who can give you bread. If wind is about to kill you on the sea, you could be saved by someone who can walk on water.

Not That Kind of King

Remember from last time that Jesus had taken 5 barley loaves and a few fish, given thanks to God, and then fed 5 thousand people with them. That’s the story in John 6:1–15. The ultimate point of that miracle was to point to Jesus himself as the Bread of heaven. The point was not mainly that Jesus gives bread to satisfy our stomachs, but that he is bread to satisfy our souls.

But the people were blind to this truth. We see that in today’s text in verse 26, “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Verse 15 says they wanted to make Jesus their king. In other words, they believed on him as a great source of prosperity, but not as a great Savior from sin, and not as a great Treasure in himself.

To Be Our Bread

But we argued last time that Jesus did not come into the world mainly to give bread, but to be bread. He did not come to be an ever-ready bellhop for our bellies, but to be the all-satisfying bread for our souls. O, he cares about our physical lives in this age, but he cares 10 million times more about our eternal lives. The day of resurrection is coming when he will give us bodies like his glorious body, and when “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

O, yes. That is coming. But in the meantime, he tells Peter at the end of this Gospel “by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19). And Paul says,

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35–37)

Eternal Life, Not an Easy Life

Jesus did not come into the world mainly to deliver us from the sufferings of this present age, but to deliver us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). He came not to give us an easy life now, but an eternal life later. So when they wanted to make him their belly-filling king (in verse 15), he left them and went into the mountain.

Later that evening, verse 16–21 says,

his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

Walking on Water to Clarify the Loaves

One of the remarkable things about this miracle of Jesus walking on the water, and the disciples being rescued from the wind and landing strangely safe at their desired haven, is that nothing is made of it in the rest of the Gospel. We are in the middle of chapter 6, and the entire chapter is devoted to unfolding the implications of the miracle of the feeding of the 5 thousand. So that miracle gets a whole chapter of attention and explanation. This miracle gets none.

So John is not telling this miracle as a way of setting the stage for a long dialogue about Jesus’ ability to walk on water. Instead this miracle is embedded in the story of the feeding of the 5 thousand. This miracle in John’s mind served that story. John is telling the short and amazing incident of Jesus’ walking on the water to clarify or underline something in the story about the loaves and fish.

For the Disciples—And for Us

Here’s a clue what that might be. So far as we know, the people that Jesus walked away from in verse 15 and some of whom he will now spend of the rest of this chapter talking to—they never hear about this miracle. Jesus doesn’t talk about it. The disciples don’t talk about it. So who is it for?

It’s for the disciples. And for us. Jesus is showing something to the disciples that underlines the point of the feeding of the 5 thousand. One of the minor points that we said nothing about last time was that when the 5 thousand had eaten their fill, Jesus said to his disciples in verse 12, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”

Giving to Others with Him as Our Gift

Then verse 13 says something that surely has more meaning than mere mathematics. “So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.” Why twelve? Surely it’s no mere coincidence that there are twelve. Jesus calls his disciples “the Twelve” in verses 67 and 70.

Surely Jesus means to say: When you serve me and you give and give and give until you think you can give no more, I will take care of you. I will always be enough for you. If you pour out your life to give bread to the world, I will be your all-satisfying bread. The more you satisfy others, the more I will be your satisfaction. The more you give life to others, the more I will be life to you.

The Miracle of His Presence

That’s what I think Jesus is underlining and clarifying when he comes to them walking on the water. Verse 17 says that “it was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” So here is a picture of the disciples in the dark, in a storm, bereft of Jesus—right after a miracle whose point was: I am the bread from heaven, and if you feed on me, you will live forever (6:50).

But now their life is imperiled, not by hunger, but by wind. Verse 18: “The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.” This time he doesn’t give them twelve baskets of miracle bread. He gives them the miracle of his presence when they thought there is no way he could be here.

Jesus Is the Bread

And the reason I think the focus is on Jesus’ presence—his personal presence—is that John makes no comment about the stilling of the storm. It’s not the point. What does he say? Verses 19­–21:

They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, “and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”

What John says is not: O look he has authority over wind and waves, what an all-providing king he would make! That’s true. He would, and he is. But what John says is: Jesus himself came to them. He identified himself, “It is I.” And they were glad—they desired—to take him into the boat. And with that, the story within the story is immediately over. They are at their desired haven.

The point has been made. It’s been made twice. I did a miracle for you on the land, and gave each of you a basket of bread. I showed you that I will be your personal bread—each one of you. If you have an overwhelming ministry in front of you—to feed 5 thousand—and you feel totally inadequate, not only will I give you resources to feed them, I will be there for you when it is all over. I will not just give you bread; I will be your bread.

Bread in the Boat

And now I have done another miracle for you. I have shown you that in the dark, in the storm, I will let nothing separate me from you. I will walk on water to be with you. And when you take me into your boat with joy, we will arrive at our desired haven.

So whether the story is about being rescued from hunger by making bread, or being rescued from wind by walking on water, the point is: I don’t just give bread; I am bread. I don’t just make the wind stop; I get into the boat.

To Be Continued

Now at this point in my preparation I realized (again!) that my plan was too ambitious and my title was misleading. I hoped to get through verse 29 and tackle the words of verse 27, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” But that is too important to squeeze into the time we have left.

So I take this as the Lord’s doing so that I can end with an application that was I hoping to fit in last week and couldn’t. Next week I will try to answer the questions: 1) Should we really not work for the bread that perishes—that is, shouldn’t we have jobs that earn money to pay for food? And 2) what does it mean to work for the food that endures to eternal life? Isn’t that food a free gift? So why does Jesus say to “labor” for it? That’s next time.

Money and Ministry

Here’s the application of today’s text. It has to do with money and the way the ministry and mission of your life and of this church are supported. At the present time, in our history as a church, it takes about 8.5 million dollars to fund the basic budget of Bethlehem. Another stream of income is called Treasuring Christ Together (TCT). That is totally separate from the budget of the church. It pays for the purchase of the campus buildings, the planting of churches, and the global diaconate which reaches out to the poorest of the poor around the world. If you don’t designate to TCT, nothing in your regular giving goes to TCT. You can designate to both or to either, both on the two lines of the church giving envelopes or in the electronic giving page online.

To meet our church and mission expenses (which will be well under budget), the church needs to receive 8.4 million dollars in 2009 for the church and missions budget. You have given 6.4 million so far. That means about 2 million dollars is needed by year’s end (8 weekends) to meet expenses. That is probably the greatest year-end challenge we have ever faced. Your giving is almost 3% ahead of last year, but the budgeted expenses are about 5% ahead of last year. Hence the large year-end need. Last year you gave 1.9 million dollars in November and December. This year the need is 2.2 million dollars for those 2 months. Last week you gave almost $200,000. So the remaining need is about 2 million. I am deeply thankful for your sacrifices.

Every Need Supplied

What Jesus says and does in this text relates to the church budget and to your personal budget. The church has needs for its life and ministry. And you have needs for your life and ministry. The way God provides the needs of the church is through your gifts. And the way he provides for your needs is through your work (which is why next week’s sermon is important—what does Jesus man when he says, “Do not labor for the food that perishes”?).

What Jesus shows us today in these two miracles (the feeding of the 5 thousand and the walking on water) is this: There is no ministry for Christ’s sake, and no storm in Christ’s service, where every need will not be supplied—above all, the need for Jesus himself.

Generosity and Risk-Taking

As you pour yourself out in ministry at home, in the work place, and at church (and yes, I am calling it all ministry), there will be a basket left over for you. Twelve apostles, twelve baskets full. You give, he supplies. And as you are overtaken by storms in his service, he comes to you and gets in the boat with you, and sees to it that you get to your appointed haven.

Because of these promises—to give us what we need, especially himself—we can be very generous, and we can risk many storms. Generous and risk-taking as a church. And generous and risk-taking as givers to the church.

Especially Himself

Every time the apostle Paul tried to motivate Christians to give money, he did it with this very same promise. He did it in 2 Corinthians 9:8, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” God’s promised provision is the motive for our giving to every good work.

And he did it in Philippians 4:19. He thanks them for their gift through Epaphroditus and then says, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” In other words, in all your giving, God will see to it that you have a basket left over—especially himself.

He Gets in the Boat

So I am asking and exhorting you as your pastor on behalf of Christ—if this is your church home—give of yourself and your money, and risk storms in the remainder of 2009 in a way that magnifies Jesus as the one who creates bread and walks on water. But even more, live in this generous risk-taking way because he is bread for your soul and gets in the boat with you.

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