[The hectic pace of life has prevented me from posting much as of late. Today I thought I would simply provide some theological content from a recent sermon I preached at Renfrew Baptist . . .]
Toward the end of John 5, Jesus names “Moses” twice (John 5:45-46), and then John 6 ensues, a chapter brimming with allusions to Moses and the story of the exodus. What follows is some biblical-theological reflection on only the first two stories in John 6 (vv. 1-15 and vv. 16-21).
John 6 opens with the report that Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, after which he “went up on the mountain” (6:3). With the phrase “went up on the mountain,” could there already be an echo in John 6 of Exodus 19:3; 24:18; and 34:4; where Moses “went up” Mount Sinai? John 6:4 continues with mention of “Passover,” an obvious allusion back to Exodus 12. It would seem, at the start of John 6, that John wanted his readers to think “Exodus.”
Following Israel’s dramatic exit from the clutches of Egypt (Exodus 14), the people found themselves in the wilderness of Sin, grumbling because of their hunger (Exodus 16). Yahweh promised a shower of bread from heaven, with attendant “testing” (Exodus 16:4).
Following Jesus’s trek up the “mountain,” and following John’s mention of “Passover,” John 6 turns to description of Jesus feeding the crowd by multiplying bread and fish (John 6:5-13). As Yahweh had once fed the hungry hordes in the wilderness of Sin, now Jesus fed 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish. And similar to Yahweh “testing” the people in Exodus 16:4, Jesus “tests” Philip just prior to the distribution of the new manna (John 6:6).
Those who ate by the hand of Jesus consumed “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11); they “ate their fill” (John 6:12). In Exodus 16:18, each person in the wilderness of Sin had “gathered as much as he could eat.”
The people perceived a connection between Jesus and Moses, and so they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is come into the world!” (John 6:14). “The Prophet,” of course, was an expected figure who would fulfill the word that Moses had spoken in Deuteronomy 18:15: When the Prophet came, he would be like Moses had been. Certainly, Jesus was acting like Moses in many respects, but Jesus was going much further. For instance, Moses never claimed to be the manna from heaven like Jesus did (John 6:35, 48).
The second story in John 6 puts everything on a yet higher plane. There is a double mention of the “sea” in John 6:16-17, and if one is convinced that in John 6:1-15 John has been nodding to the story of the exodus, then one cannot help but wonder if now, some sort of new “Red Sea” moment might occur. The disciples get into nautical trouble, and they witness what would be a terrifying sight: a human being walking on water (John 6:19). As readers, we know that human beings cannot walk on water, and on that score, the disciples would have agreed with us wholeheartedly. Yet they witnessed the man Jesus walking on the water. Who can walk on water? Only God can “trample the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). Only God has a “way” through the sea and a “path” through the waters (Psalm 77:19).
“This is indeed the Prophet,” the people had said in John 6:14. It would seem that their identification of Jesus as the “Prophet like Moses” was a vast underestimation. Did Moses ever walk on water? Someone far greater than Moses was now in their world, and in John 6:20, Jesus makes that fact crystal clear. “It is I; do not be afraid,” says Jesus, who is strolling toward his disciples on top of liquid H2O. “It is I; do not be afraid.” The Greek that translates “It is I” in John 6:20 is the precise Greek that translates as the initial “I AM” in Exodus 3:14 (LXX). In Isaiah 43:10, 25, there are three uses of the same Greek phrase, and in that same chapter there are two appearances of “Fear not”: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you,” says Yahweh (Isa 43:1); “Fear not, for I am with you,” says Yahweh (Isa 43:5). When Jesus utters, “I AM, do not be afraid” in John 6:20 (as he stands upon water!), he is expressing his identity as the Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43 Yahweh-to-the-rescue. Jesus is not simply “the Prophet.” Jesus is God come in the flesh.
Yahweh had gone solo in bringing the people to safety through the Red Sea (Exod 14). The end of the second story in John 6 reads, “Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Is there a connection between Jesus’s presence in the boat, and the “immediacy” of their safe arrival on land? One thinks of Psalm 107:28-30: “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired safe haven.”
Who is Jesus? He is more than a mere prophet like Moses. He is more than merely a new Moses. He is God come in the flesh.
Grace and Peace,