“God’s Tests Bring Out Our Best”

John 6:1-15


            As a kid I remember watching TV when, out of the blue, an announcer would break in with these words … “This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. This is only a test.”  Then, for what seemed like forever, there would be that loud, ear drum piercing sound.  Somewhat annoyingly, when the sound was gone, the announcer would say, “The broadcasters of your area, in voluntary cooperation with federal, state and local authorities, have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. This concludes the test of the emergency broadcast system.”

            Show of hands … who likes tests?  Yeah.  No one likes them.  Whether it’s the emergency broadcasting tests, true/false test, essay tests, multiple guess tests, or your driver license tests.  No one like them.

            And yet in Christ’s fourth sign in John’s gospel, Jesus says these ominous words … “He asked this to test him” (6:6).  Talk about a test right?  Imagine that about 20,000 people show up at your house today after church for lunch.  They’re hungry, they’re famished, and they want to eat now!  What would you do?  This is Philip’s test.  Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people?” (6:5).

            Jesus tests Philip, Jesus tests us.  He tests us to find out if we see with eyes of faith or with the eyes in our head.  He tests us to see whether we rely on our own resources or if we rely on God’s resources found in Christ when all hell breaks loose.

            Here’s the deal … God’s tests bring out our best.  God’s tests, they aren’t intended to destroy us.  God’s tests are intended to develop us.  We heard earlier in Genesis 22, “After these things God tested Abraham” (22:1).  If you remember, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son Isaac.  And then at the last possible minute, God stopped Abraham and provided a ram for the sacrifice.  Abraham passed the test and called the mountain, “The LORD will provide.”  In Judges 2, God said, “I will use them (foreign nations) to test Israel” (2:22).  After that, Israelite men and women called judges stood up.  Judges like Deborah, Samson and Gideon.  God’s tests bring out our best.  That’s why David prays in Psalm 26:2, “Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.”  David asks for this test because he is longing to become more mature, more fervent, and more faithful. 

            When a storm hits, an eagle will initially appear as through the storm is going to crush it against a rocky cliff.  But when a storm hits, an eagle faces the storm, tilts his wings at the proper angle, and slowly the wind that might have crushed him beings to drive him upward.  He goes up until he rises above the storm.  What’s true of eagles can be true of us.  The power that looks to destroy us is the same power by which we rise to new heights.  God sends us tests to bring us to greater heights of conviction and courage and Christian character.

            So … what’s your test these days?  Is it your patience?  Is it financials?  Is it your health or is it taking care of someone else, taking care of aging parents?  Is it your marriage, your kids, your job?  It’s tough, life is tough.  It seems as if there is almost always a storm on the horizon.

            To pass God’s test … take a short look at the problem.  “Philip answered him, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’” (John 6:7).  Philip takes a long look at the problem.  Philip fixates on the problem itself.  Philip gets out his calculator and starts crunching the number.  “Let’s see here.  There’s 5,000 men here so there must be about 5,000 women and about 10,000 children.  How much money do we need to feed about 20,000 people?

            Don’t get me wrong, we need to look at the problem.  We need to analyze it.  But too often we get so mesmerized with it that we get pulverized by it.  Like the saying goes … don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

            There’s this story about a man falling from a 12 story building.  When he reaches the sixth floor, someone asks him how’s he doing.  His response?  “So far so good!”  Blind optimism which ignores the problem is not what I’m talking about.  Someone else once said, “There are 50 ways to fight a fire, but closing your eyes isn’t one of them.”  To pass God’s tests … we need to take a look at the problem, but we only need to take a short look.

            Take a short look at the problem, but take a long look at the possibilities.  Andrew says, “Here is a small boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:9).  Why the emphasis on small?  Because God does big things with small stuff.  Because God does big things with small stuff.

            Egyptian horses and chariots were barreling down on Moses.  All he had was a staff in his hand.  But it was the Egyptians who were the ones doing the dead man’s float and Moses won the battle!  120,000 mighty, menacing Midianites were ready to smash Gideon.  All Gideon had was 300 soldiers who lapped water like dogs.  But the mighty, menacing Midianites became mincemeat and Gideon won the battle.  Goliath was ready to rip David to shreds and all David had was five smooth stones.  Goliath was knocked down and David won the battle.

            I hear you though … “All I have is a small faith.  A small prayer.  A small hope.  All I have is a small chance, a small little life.”  Well … good!  Good because our God does big things with small stuff.  Take a short look at the problem.  Take a long look at the possibilities.  Christ works a miracle with a small boy with small loaves and small fish.

            Now, that you have seen the problem, seen the possibilities … take a deep look at the Provider.  The provider, Jesus, is with you in your test.  How so?  Christ is the bread of life.  Christ’s feeding of the 5,000 lays the groundwork for this promise in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.”  In fact, bread appears 21 times in John 6.  Bread in this chapter means everything we need.  Christ is the essence of life.

            Christ is the Good Shepherd.  In John 6 we’re told, “The people had as much as they wanted” (6:11).  In John 6 we’re also told, “there was plenty of grass in that place” (6:10).  There was no more want and there was green grass.  Later in John 10, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  Get it?  John just described Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures” (23:1-2).

            Christ is also the Passover Lamb.  John 6:4 says, “The Jewish Passover was near.”  All four gospels tell of the feeding of the 5,000, however, John is the only one who mentions the Passover.  In fact, John mentions the Passover 11 times.  And why?  What is the Passover?  The Passover is when the Lamb is sacrificed.  John the Baptist says of Jesus in John 1, “Behold the Lamb of God is taking away the sin of the world” (1:29).

            When you’re in a test, take a deep look at the Provider.  Not a shallow look.  Not a quick and hasty look.  Look deeply at the Provider.  Look deeply and you will see that Christ is your Bread of Life, Christ is your Good Shepherd, and Christ is your Lamb of God who is taking away your sin.  In the test, Christ provides.

            Hernando Cortez wanted to lead an expedition into Mexico to capture its vast treasures.  When he told the Spanish governor his strategy, the governor got so excited that he gave Cortez 11 ships and 700 men.  In the spring of 1519, the 11 ships landed in Veracruz, Mexico.  As soon as the men unloaded the ships, Cortez had them burned … all 11 of them.  Now why do that?  Because if the fighting got too fierce, there would be no talk of sailing home.  Like it or not, there was no way out.

            Like it or not … God sometimes brings us to the point where all the ships are burned and there is no way out.  With no way out, it looks impossible.  Looking impossible, we panic.  This is a test!  A test, not of the emergency broadcast system … but a test of your marriage, your integrity, your courage, your Christian faith.  When in the test, remember this …

            God’s tests bring out our best.  The test can bring us to greater heights of faith and humility and love.  How?  We briefly look at the problem, take a long look at the possibilities, and then, whatever else you do, take a deeper look at the Provider, at Jesus.  Because with Jesus … there is always, always, more than enough bread.  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.


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