Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people come to look for him. Turning to Philip he asked, where can we buy bread to feed all these people? He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do – John 6: 5-6
The Book of John reveals a God who came near to us. In Jesus we see Emmanuel, ‘God with us’ and he walks, talks, eats and shares his life among us. We get to see Gods character up close, and it is a beautiful picture in all ways. Here, in this simple and often read passage we see another of his characteristics, his greatness. With that, we are able to compare his greatness with ours.
I read this week that the next ‘biggest’ complex in the world is due to be finished in Dubai at a height of 1 km. It is one of a number of monuments going up to man’s greatness around the world at the moment. Without doubt many of these will be spectacular. We might ask, which one exactly is the pinnacle of human achievement – which empire can we point to across the ages and say, ‘that is one that achieved so much?’ Babylon perhaps, or maybe Rome? The British empire as a more modern example. We can consider the glory of each, with monuments and beacons that in some cases have endured through to today, a legacy to a bygone era of greatness.
The contrast with God’s greatness though, is that his greatness is for all of us. The empires of the world, both past and modern are built for the benefit of just a few. Few get to really enjoy them, but we are left in no doubt as to who they are really built for. This is in total contrast to the great works of God in Scripture, which are for the benefit of mankind and always have a purpose to achieve good for all.
God’s greatness also seems so effortless compared to our own. While we need to muster all of our intelligence and power, with months even years of consumed planning and preparation, his greatness seems always to be to hand.
There is a winsome teasing with Philip the disciple here, that belies what Jesus really did. In the Old Testament, His Father sustained an entire nation in a Limestone desert for 40 years (the same desert that defeated the entire army with all of its modern machinery in just a few days) through the provision of a daily supply of food. Jesus readily and easily achieves the same feat, sustaining people in their time of need, again with food. Father and Son in harmony, at work. Greatness.
With effortless compassion, his divine power shows each of us that our ability to sustain ourselves is limited, that our achievements are contained within his much greater ones. Did Philip have the answer to the needs of those around him? Were any of those in the crowd able to offer suitable provision; when it really counted, did their, or do our achievements count for anything much?
But what of God, does he ask anything of us in return? What does he ask us to achieve in this life? I might be simplistic in my thinking, but I think that what God asks each of us to achieve in our lifetime is simple obedience to him. Little, if anything more.
For the believer, this is most important. We must come simply to God, take what he has given us and share it among those around us. We must minister to the sick, to the poor, the marginalised and those in need. In doing so, we copy his Son. We are not called to elevate ourselves in anyway, but to be the humble servant of Christ, sharing his greatness amongst all people. That is important as well. We have access to the greatness of God because of the Son, who sent his Spirit to us.
In my view, a changed life is truly evidence of the greatness of God, perhaps far more impressive than feeding multitudes or parting oceans. Lives that are stuck, lives that cannot move forward are able to be changed by him alone. That is our ministry to this world, the life of a believer. Taking his greatness to a cynical and hardened world, and watching hearts of stone being replaced with hearts of flesh.
We have read this passage many times, and perhaps the greatness of God has escaped us here. Maybe it is the humility of his greatness that passes us by, but it is there nonetheless. In fact, the greatness of God is on display all around us, mostly in the lives of those who have been changed by him. Do we miss it because we are consumed by our own achievements, our own successes and greatness?
One day, God is going to erase all the achievements of man in an instant.
How will we be when each of us, with nothing in our hands, stands before God? He may I fear, ask each of us just one question as we stand before him, and it will be this: ‘What did you do with my Son in your life?’
The answer to that question will provide a complete picture of our lives and all we achieved. Let us be prepared.