Straight Licks with Crooked Sticks
Dr. Jim Denison
This afternoon, the largest sporting event in the universe will take place. 715 million people watched the last World Cup final in 2006. Today’s final between Spain and the Netherlands will probably break all records. Raise your hand if you’re going to watch the match. That’s what I thought. I don’t understand the appeal of the game. Watching a game which is high-scoring when it ends 2-1 is like watching someone else fish. But that many people can’t be wrong.
I don’t understand what happened Thursday night, either. As you know, ESPN aired a primetime special to announce that LeBron James is moving from Cleveland to Miami. Millions watched. I understand that LeBron is a great basketball player, but a primetime special so he can tell us where he wants to play next? When he defeats the Taliban or stops the leak in the Gulf, then I’ll watch his special. But that many people can’t be wrong.
Last Thursday I was speaking in Arlington and drove past Cowboys Stadium. Janet and I were privileged to be present for the first event in the stadium, and have been to several games since. I still have not gotten used to it. At $1.3 billion, it is the most expensive sports stadium in human history. The two spans which suspend the roof are a quarter-mile in length. The video screen is the largest in the world. More than 108,000 people attended last year’s NBA All-Star Game in the stadium; the video screen was larger than the court.
Our culture measures success by size. The bigger, the more, the stronger, the better. God doesn’t see things the same way. As we explore some of Jesus’ miracles this summer, today we’ll focus on one of his most famous. I’d like you to see not just what Jesus did, but what he used.
Most of us know that success is not enough. We’ve achieved enough success to know that it’s not all there is. Someone asked one of the Rockefellers how much money was enough. He smiled and answered, “Just a little more.” There’s always the next deal, the next buy, the next thing.
We want our lives to count, to know that we mattered for something. Next to my fear that something would happen to my family, my greatest fear is that I would stand before God one day and hear him tell me that I missed what he made me to do. You want your life to be significant, to leave a legacy, to matter. How can we know that God is using us for eternal significance today? Let’s find out.
Give God your need (vs. 1-7)
As this week’s miracle begins, our Lord wanted time alone with his disciples for teaching and rest. They’ve just been down to Jerusalem, a 90-mile hike (from Dallas to Waco) and back, and have been in a demanding season of ministry. 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.
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 about the kingdom of God (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 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 has seen Jesus calm storms and raise corpses—surely he could trust him with lunch. 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, the usual pay for a day’s labor; 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.
Give Jesus all you have (vs. 8-13)
By contrast, Andrew had more faith than Philip, but not by much: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (v. 9).