After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhere are we to buy bread for these people to eat?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, Ã¢â‚¬ËœSix monthsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon PeterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s brother, said to him, Ã¢â‚¬ËœThere is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Jesus said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœMake the people sit down.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus 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. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, Ã¢â‚¬ËœGather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœThis is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ John 6:4-14 (This is the only miracle mentioned in all four Gospels. Mt. 14:13-21; Mk. 6:32-44; Lk. 9:10-17)
The Smithsonian Museum in Washington displays a leather-bound book in which Thomas Jefferson pasted all the passages from Gospels that contain no miraculous element. This was the Bible he read every day toward the end of his life, a more palatable gospel of Jesus the teacher but not the miracle worker.
Many of us hear the use of the word miracle pretty haphazardly: We read special offers such as: SPECIAL SALE. The Hollywood 48 Hour Miracle Diet Scientifically Formulated to lose up 10 pound in 48 hours. This is a trendy understanding of miracle in our consumer society, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not what the Gospel proclaims about the miraculous power of Jesus Christ. Recently, I read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, a former atheist who came to faith in Jesus Christ. He worked for Chicago Tribune as their legal editor. In his course of investigative work he interviewed Dr. William Lane Craig, who holds doctorates in philosophy from the University of Birmingham, England, and theology from University of the Munich. I like to share their fascinating conversation on the subject of miracles:
Lee: Okay, Dr. Craig, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re an intelligent and educated individual. Tell me: how can a modern and rational person still believe in babies being born from virgins, people walking on water, and cadavers emerging alive from tombs?
Dr. Craig: ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s funny you should ask specifically about the virgin birth, because that was a major stumbling block to my becoming Christian. I thought it was totally absurd. When the Christian message was first shared with me as a teenager, I had already studied biology. I knew that for the virgin birth to be true, a Y chromosome had to be created out of nothing in MaryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ovum, because Mary didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t possess the genetic material to produce a male child. To me, this was utterly fantastic. It just didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make sense.
Lee: YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not alone. There are other skeptics who have problems with it too. How did you then proceed?
Dr. Craig: Well, I sort of put that issue aside and became a Christian anyway, even though I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really believe in the virgin birth. But then, after becoming a Christian, it occurred to me that if I really do believe in a God who created the universe, then for Him to create a Y chromosome would be childÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s play. I guess the authenticity of the person of Jesus and the truth of his message was so powerful that they simply overwhelmed any residual doubts that I had.
Then how do you define the miracles in the Gospels?
For any miracle in the Gospels there are number of interpretations given by theologians and preachers of the Gospel. Eco-theologians, for example, offer this new explanation of the feeding of the five thousand: People were hungry, and Jesus appealed to their good human nature that they should be a caring and sharing community. A generous little boy came forward and offered to Jesus the only food he had. This act of kindness on the part of the boy caused everyone in the crowd to pull out the food they were hiding in picnic baskets, and they shared it with each other. This was the real miracle, that Jesus turned the self-centered, obstinate, hard-hearted people into a caring and generous community.
Arguments like this are put forward because some have difficulty accepting miracles or even recognizing the power of God. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in our nature to want to be in control. We think that if every Biblical story cannot be explained, or explained in human terms, it is somehow deficient. The irony is that if this Gospel is about anything at all, it is about the difference between the way we think, and the way God thinks. We are finite. God is infinite. Our thought process are defined by the worlds in which we live, complete with our prejudices, our biases and our politics. God, on the other hand, thinks outside the box, and brings about results we could not bring about on our own.
The five thousand whose hunger was satisfied do not appear to ask Ã¢â‚¬Å“How did it happen and how did he do it?Ã¢â‚¬Â They recognize something unusual happened, for they heard and received the message. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.Ã¢â‚¬Â A miracle is a sign from God. The entire Gospel of St. John is devoted to disclosing who Jesus is so people can believe in him. He stands in the Judean wilderness and says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.Ã¢â‚¬Â He is the bread Ã¢â‚¬" the nourishment for the soul better than the manna of MosesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ day.
Now we must ask ourselves: How does this miracle speak to us today? One may say it is quite odd for Jesus to feed those who could have gone home or found food in the villages or towns. Why not feed millions in our world who wait with big, round eyes, and big, round stomachs at food distribution centers? We see their starving faces on World Vision and Food for the Hungry posters. What about them? If God could do it then, why doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t He do it now?
Jesus did not perform these miracles as the David Copperfield of his time. One obvious answer is found in what Jesus said to the disciples. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You give them something to eat.Ã¢â‚¬Â He invited them to be co-partners with him in GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s kingdom on earth. His invitation to them, and, by extension, to us, means those who discover the living God in and through Jesus must be prepared to face up to evil structures and powers that still dominate and control so much of GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s world and to challenge them in the name of Jesus and with the power of victory on the cross. Jesus had come to break the power of sin and death and invite people of Ã¢â‚¬Å“all sorts and conditions of menÃ¢â‚¬Â and women, from every race and clan, people from every corner of the globe who call Jesus Lord into the Kingdom of God.
I want to ask you to join me in praying for a miracle. Many of you have seen the face of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan Christian on trail this week in Islamic court in Kabul. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord 16 years ago. The Afghan court is trying him for apostasy and the punishment can be death. I ask your prayers for GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s protection for him and pray for the Afghan judge to show spirit of tolerance and generosity.