All You Can Eat

A Buffet for the Soul

John 6:5-13

Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.

Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”

10 Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 


Only in America and the western world is there such a thing as the all-you-can-eat restaurant. The southern United States is replete with these glorious temples of gustatory excess–and I love them. Piles of biscuits, buckets of mashed potatoes, and bottomless fried chicken are the siren song of my country-reared appetite.

The food is hot and brown and there’s plenty of it.

As I have grown older and a little more health- and taste-conscious, I partake of these establishments less and less–much to the relief of my doctor and my wife.

There is something about a steakhouse, Chinese restaurant, or barbecue joint offering steaming trays of flash-fried, salt-laden food that offers a sense of comfort and happiness at first sight. But that comfort and happiness does not usually last long after the meal–and sometimes quite the opposite occurs

I have a memory of a camping trip long ago with my wife. We set up camp in a state park and went in search of dinner in the small town nearby. A storefront eatery on the single main street advertised itself as a seafood restaurant and it had that majestic hand-lettered sign in the front window: “All U Can Eat Buffet.”

I had found our place.

After an evening spent devouring various offerings of the sea–including millions of fried shrimp–the ocean finally ran out of food and we went back to the camp. I recall my wife had enjoyed a salad and a respectable portion of a menu item. I felt a kind of pity for her in missing out. On the other hand, I also felt full. Very, very full.  

I had planned a campground evening of walking by the lakeside with my lovely bride, relaxing by the fire, and roasting s’mores under the moonlight. None of this happened. Instead, I found myself lying on the floor of the tent groaning in misery and trying not to think about eating anything else as long as I lived, much less a sticky, sweet s’more.

Have you ever had “all you can eat?” Jesus performs a miracle in the sixth chapter of John that provides an all-you-can-eat buffet to a crowd of thousands–but at the end of the meal, He knows that far from being filled, they are not satisfied. While bread and fish please the appetite, a hunger remains in their hearts.

John 6 brings us to a pivotal moment in Jesus’s earthly ministry. Up until now, Jesus has been performing miracles, teaching and leading with a kind of growing energy. He worked alone or with his small band of disciples who were finding it harder to keep up with their wandering rabbi.

He has healed the lame, the sick, and the dying. Water has been turned to wine and His words in regards to His identity and purpose in life have caught the alarmed attention of the Jewish leaders. Jesus knows that the crowds are growing larger. Word of Him and His deeds are spreading far and wide–and His disciples seem to be growing more confused by the day.

From this point forward what Paul calls the “foolishness of gospel” will become more and more evident as Jesus lays out His message in full:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – I Corinthians 1:18

John remembers back to the crowds that had begun to gather. In every village they seem to turn up as news travels from well to well and market to market. The more people that accumulate, the more they will struggle to understand what is really happening, including Jesus’ own disciples.

On one hand, the crowds are great news. Who does not want a crowd of people flocking to their church to hear the Gospel message? Is this not what every pastor, church elder, or church member wants?

John has seen and walked in the crowds and shares a vital, personal detail:

Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. –John 6:2

There are doubtless many, many sincere people seeking the message of Christ in these crowds, but the overall mood and spirit of them is grounded in sensationalism as they seek a celebrity messiah. There are also likely others in this crowd as well: representatives of the Sanhedrin, Pharisees, and even Roman agents in plainclothes who listened for tones of insurrection and revolution wherever large crowds gathered in occupied Judea.

Jesus knows what He must do. Instead of pulling a disappearing act and leaving the area under the cover of darkness or in secret, He meets the crowds head on and begins to teach.

Hours and hours pass. Hunger builds, but a hunger for food and not necessarily the Bread of Life.

I am convinced Jesus had a rich sense of humor for He asks Philip, one of the disciples, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip is a local boy, raised near the area. It is speculated that he was the “procurer” for the group, much the way Judas kept the books.

Philip does the math and his hair stands on end. This will cost a FORTUNE. His scrounger mind works feverishly–where to find enough vendors? How to carry food for thousands up this great big hill?

Peter’s brother, the ever-helpful Andrew, remembers a boy who has been following on their coattails all day. He has a packed lunch from home, or maybe he was the young son of an enterprising merchant who had sent him into the gathered mass to make a little money off some bread and fish

“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”–John 6:9

As Philip and Andrew cogitate, Jesus begins to operate.

He sends them out among the crowd to deliver the meager portions of bread and fish: a fool’s errand for a fool’s gospel.

Yet, while this is happening, a miracle unfolds:

12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. –John 6:12-13

Not only is there enough bread and fish for the enormous crowd, there are twelve baskets left for the twelve servants.

Jesus is making a couple of points. He has taken care of the earthly needs of people seeking Him. He has performed perhapsHis greatest miracle to date in His ministry and one that skeptics have struggled for centuries to disprove. The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels.

Do you know what Jesus is doing here? On the one hand, He is revealing that the basic needs of His followers are important to Him–but are not the focus of their lives. He reveals later in the chapter the true message of feeding His people:

27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”–John 6:27

Jesus may have fed the body, but it is your soul that he longs to feed. Like the woman at the well longing for the Living Water of which one will never thirst again, Jesus promises the Bread of Life that will feed you for eternity.

For Jesus did not forget his own. The disciples–that confused, worried bunch–were hungry themselves and knew that at the end of such a meager feast there would be none for them. Then the “miracle of the leftovers” was realized.

Jesus is pulling from the Old Testament. The provision for the poor, for servants, as found in the Law:

‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. –Leviticus 19:9

This is the Pe’ah, (פֵּאָה;) literally “the corner” of the field. From here came the gleanings that fed Ruth and Naomi. That fed the disciples on that hillside.

The gleanings that feed you. For the greater message, the message of foolishness, is that to follow Christ is to live the life of a servant.

Do you seek to serve Him? It is so easy to be concerned about our daily needs or even our place in this life on a scale of prosperity, success and significance. Do you attend church seeking to be “fed” by the preaching and shop for other churches if his preaching is not dynamic enough or the pastor has not published enough books? 

Do you seek to serve him but only want to participate if it works in your busy schedule, will produce tangible results or–like Philip sought–is the “best use of God’s money?” 

We are not called to be a part of the crowd seeking miracles or entertainment but to instead, like the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:3) himself, to seek to give all you have and all that you are to follow Him. Jesus offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of spiritual food. You must first be emptied in order to be filled (Philippians 2:7). This may mean serving Christ in ways that no one ever sees–or serving visibly but resisting the praise and admiration of others.  

Christian artist Michael Card put it best in his book “The Parable of Joy:”

To become a servant at the feast was all that was asked of them, and indeed it is all that is asked of us.–Michael Card


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.