Fight Fear With Faith
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: true faith in Jesus will defeat every fear we face
Bill and Vonette Bright were hard at work on the UCLA campus, seeking to win students to faith in Christ. But results were mediocre, and their supporters feared for the future of this ministry. Then, in 1951, a 24-hour prayer chain for UCLA was started in Los Angeles churches. The day was divided into 96 15-minute periods, with people praying around the clock for the students on the campus.
Following the inauguration of this prayer movement, in the first evangelistic meeting at a particular sorority house, over half the women present indicated they wanted to know Jesus Christ personally. Evangelistic meetings followed with various fraternities, sororities and athletic teams, with similar responses. Hundreds of students came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus, including the most outstanding student leaders on the campus. And Campus Crusade for Christ was born.
Are you afraid for your future? Are your results mediocre? Are your dreams stagnant? Is your purpose dim? Are your finances low? Is your health poor? You may be faced with overwhelming problems, but it’s always too soon to give up. If Jesus can use a small boy’s lunch to feed 5,000 families, then walk on a stormy sea to rescue terrified fishermen, he can help you today. But we must do what the Brights did—we must go to Jesus in faith. Not to earn his power, but to receive it.
“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered, and there was nobody there.” Let’s learn how to answer the fear knocking at your door today.
Refuse to be discouraged (vs. 5-7)
As this week’s miracle begins, we find Jesus on the “far shore” of the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1) at “a town called Bethsaida” (Luke 9:10). This town was situated on the northeastern tip of the Sea of Galilee, near the fords of the Jordan (Barclay 201). It was known as Bethsaida Julius, to distinguish it from Bethsaida of Galilee to the west.
Skeptics have claimed a contradiction between Luke 9.10, which places this miracle at Bethsaida, and Mark 6.45, which records that after this miracle “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida.” But Mark’s account refers to the western Bethsaida of Galilee, not the Bethsaida Julius which was the location of our story; cf. Robertson 96, Bruce 746, Barclay 201.
It was springtime, with the Passover near (John 6.4). A considerable time has elapsed since the close of John 5, from a month (if the “feast” of John 5.1 was Purim) to more likely a year (if the “feast” was the previous Passover). Jesus has been extremely busy in his public ministry, and has come under much attack from the authorities (cf. 7.1, “Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life”).
And so our Lord wanted time alone with his disciples for teaching and rest. However, the crowds did not cooperate: “a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick” (v. 2). So he withdrew to this remote location. But they could follow him around the shore of the Sea, so that “Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him” (v. 5).
They were 5,000 men in number (v. 10), not including their families (Matthew 14.21: “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children”). Philip’s estimate of the money required to feed them (v. 7) would indicate that as many as 10,000 were present in total (Bruce 747).
With their arrival, the only miracle (except the Resurrection) to be recorded in all four Gospels began. Jesus spent the day with this persistent crowd, “teaching them many things” (Mark 6.34). More specifically, he “welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing” (Luke 9.11).
Now the hour was late, the location remote. The crowd has been with Jesus all day, with no food or supplies. Jesus’ disciples urged him to send them away to find their own food (Matthew 14.15, Mark 6.35-36, Luke 9.12). But he was unwilling to feed spiritual hunger while ignoring the physical. And he saw in the need of the multitude a spiritual opportunity for one particular disciple.
So Jesus said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (v. 5). Did he ask Philip for help because he was from Bethsaida? No, for Andrew and Peter were from this town as well (John 1.44). Did he need his help? No: “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do” (v.6). He knew already how to meet this need. But Philip did not.
Here was an opportunity for faith. A chance to believe that the One who had turned water to wine could feed this crowd as well. An opportunity to trust the Healer of the nobleman’s son and the Bethesda paralytic. Philip could have asked Jesus what he wanted done; he could have found the resources at hand and delivered them to his Master; at the very least he could have prayed.
Instead, he gave up: “Philip answered him, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!'” (v. 7). In the Greek, 200 denarii. A denarius was a Roman coin worth 18 cents (Rienecker 231), the usual pay for a day’s labor (Robertson 98); 200 would be payment for eight months of work. Even then, the people of the crowd would have only “a bite” (a detail only John supplies).
If Philip had been the only follower of Jesus present, the story would likely have ended here, with the words of a discouraged disciple. Disheartened by a need greater than he could meet, frustrated by a request he could not possibly honor, Philip responded with fear rather than faith. He was not the last.