How John Summarized a Miracle of Jesus
I get a number of daily devotionals by email, and last week one of them pointed out something fascinating from the Scriptures. Pastor Joseph Prince from Singapore (see note on Joseph Prince at end of this article) began by mentioning the description of the feeding of the 5000 by Jesus in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verses 5 through 13. (After that account, John’s gospel tells us about Jesus walking on water and coming to his disciples who were out on the Sea of Galilee in a boat during a storm.)
After that exciting account, in John 6:23, ten verses after John finished telling us about the feeding of the five thousand, he mentions that miracle again, but in an odd way. John writes: “Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” So the way John summarizes that event is not the way we probably would. He did not directly mention that 5000 people were fed, he did not mention that a little boy had five loaves and two fishes, and he not even mention that the feeding involved a miraculous multiplication of food. He simply sums up the earlier event by saying that the people had eaten bread after Jesus had given thanks. Again he mentions only two things: 1. Jesus gave thanks; 2. The people got bread.
And indeed all four gospels report that Jesus gave thanks before he performed this miracle. John reported this, and the other three gospels also reported the same thing—see Mark 6:41, Luke 9:16, and Matthew 14:19. Before he did anything else, Jesus gave thanks.
There is a pattern here which we see elsewhere in the New Testament. Before Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, he gave thanks to the Father for hearing him. (John 11:41). As he shared the Last Supper with his disciples, before he broke the bread, he gave thanks (Matthew 26:26), and before he shared the cup, he again gave thanks (Matthew 26:27). Mark 14 and Luke 22 tell us the same thing—Jesus gave thanks before sharing the Supper with his disciples. When two of the disciples were fleeing Jerusalem to Emmaus after the death of Jesus, they were initially unable to recognize him as he walked with them on the road. But then he was revealed to them as they were sitting at table, and he gave thanks for the bread and broke it--Luke 24:30.
Knowing that the Holy Spirit is the author of scripture, Pastor Prince believes that what John said at John 6:23—and did not say—in recalling the miracle of the miraculous feeding--was no accident. He wrote: “The Holy Spirit seemed to be more pleased with the act of giving thanks than the miracle of multiplication or for the 12 baskets full of leftovers.”
The lesson: We often tend to focus on the miraculous, but in our hunger for miracles, we often do not start where Jesus started—with simple thanksgiving.
Rev. Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An earlier version of this column first appeared in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.
(Note on Joseph Prince: Someone I respect has expressed concern that in quoting Joseph Prince, someone might think I agree with everything he says or that you should uncritically accept all he says. Well I don’t think that! For example Joseph Prince seems sometimes to think that all believers will experience prosperity, and I don’t think that at all. One also gets the feeling sometimes from him that all those with enough faith will be healed, and I don’t believe that either. But at the same time he often notices things in scripture that I initially do not, and so he helps me. Also he is at least willing to talk about [rather than ignoring as many do] all those passages where Jesus seems to promise that he will answer our prayers if we believe. While my experience tells me that these passages [as we often initially interpret them] often do not describe our reality, I do not believe the answer is to ignore these portions of God’s word or to pretend they are not in the Bible, but rather to prayerfully and humbly grapple with them and study them* and learn from them, in the context of what scripture as a whole teaches.)
*to give just two guides to interpreting these difficult passages, careful study will show that what we ask should be in Jesus’ name [i.e. in accord with his will and who he is, and not just with the words “in Jesus’ name” tacked on to the end of the prayer], and that these Bible promises are often made to a group or community of believers (the plural you in Greek) who are discerning, praying and agreeing together on God’s will rather than just to individuals (the singular you in Greek). The fact that “you” in English is both singular and plural leads to confusion, whereas the original Hebrew and Greek of the Old and New Testaments have separate words or word endings for singular “you” and plural “you”. At least in King James English, we could often tell that the Biblical text had a plural you because “ye” represented the plural you. Anyway, whether it is Joseph Prince, or Casey Jones, or Tim Keller, you should never, never accept uncritically what any Bible teacher teaches, but pray about it, and go back to scripture, and discern the truth with other Christians who are mature in God’s Word. Having said that, I think we discern different scriptural truths from different parts of the one Body of Christ (worldwide church). I have initially learned scriptural truths from Baptists, and Roman Catholics, and Charismatics, and then when I went back to the Bible, I saw and agreed with these truths they first showed me. We need each other in the Body of Christ.