John 6, for me, is one of the most fascinating chapters in all of Scripture. It starts with this amazing account of Jesus feeding the multitudes with a little boy’s lunch sack. With 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, Jesus feeds over 5,000 men and their families. You don’t have to spend long in most churches to have heard this story.
After all of them were fed, and the disciples gathered 12 baskets of leftovers, Jesus stepped away from the crowds and went into the mountain by himself. As he escaped, the disciples went ahead and got in the boat and sailed back across the sea to Capernaum. And we see later in chapter 6 that Jesus gave them a good scare when he walked up to the boat in the middle of the water until they got to the shore.
Now, those who had just been fed with the loaves and fishes had done what comes natural after a big meal and fallen asleep. Apparently, this version of fish and chips had tryptophan.
In the morning, they realized that Jesus was no longer among them, so, (like most of us would if someone had just clearly performed this incredible miracle right in front of us), the crowds got into the boat and followed where they knew the disciples had gone.
That brings us to what may in fact be one of the most profound passages in all of Scripture to me. It could very easily be one of the most convicting, because as soon as they arrived, Jesus saw through their actions and looked into their hearts.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
John 6:26-27 (ESV)
You see, these people were following Jesus because of something that he had done for them, instead of following Jesus because he is, well, Jesus. I wonder how many of us are here, because of something that God has done for us? I wonder – okay I worry – that there are many of us like those in the crowd that were following a MEAL instead of a MESSIAH.
I wonder how many of them were just like a little kid chasing after the ice-cream truck. I don’t know if they had them in your town where you grew up, but when I was a kid, I can remember hearing that music. To this day, just hearing that dee dee dee dee over the loud speaker makes my mouth salivate. I can close my eyes and remember hearing that heavenly sound.
That sound meant that I had about 60 seconds to bug my mother to exhaustion and coerce her into giving me that 50 cents I needed to buy a bomb-pop. Or if I was really on my game, that $1 to buy the ice cream sandwich.
But you see my point. Like them in that day, I wonder how many of us do similar things? Some preachers will try to convince you that if you follow Jesus and live in full victory you won’t be sick, you won’t be poor, and you’ll have great relationships. Most of us in this room wouldn’t say that’s what we believe, but if the opposite occurs we begin to question everything.
Most of us would say that we don’t follow Jesus for the benefits, but if we suffer through a divorce, or a miscarriage, or bankruptcy – if a parent or spouse or child passes away – or if we fail a class, lose a job, or take a pay cut our entire belief structure is turned upside down.
GOD WHY!? HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?! I’M A CHRISTIAN! I GO TO CHURCH! I EVEN TITHE!
I’m convinced one of the reasons our faith is so shaken in those times (and we have all had them to some degree or another), is because we lose sight of the reasons we’re Christians. Or maybe – just maybe – our real reasons are exposed.
But, we don’t often think of it in those terms though, do we? I wonder how many of us follow a gift-giver instead of God himself.
But look at how Jesus responds to them.
“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
Jesus tells them, “all of these things – all of these things that you’re following me in order to receive – all of these things will perish. They will blow away at a moment’s notice. Only one thing is worth your complete devotion… Me.”
If you treasure anything more than you treasure Christ, the Bible calls that idolatry. But we in the 21st Century like to think we’re beyond that whole idolatry thing, don’t we? There’s not too many of us who have symbols or animals carved out of wood on our mantle that we sacrifice things to.
Well, unless you count the TV that we sit and watch and ignore our family… Or that computer screen that we continue staring at looking at naked women instead of going on a date with our husband or wife… Or those weekends or overtime hours we had to work in order to buy that boat or jet ski which we say was for the family even though it sits in the garage or backyard more than it sits in the water.
And I’m not saying that having nice things is a bad thing. What I am saying is that it all comes at a cost. It’s not wrong to have a nice TV (I’d love one please!). It’s not wrong to have a computer (Mac or PC) or a boat or a jet ski. It is dead wrong to have your children grow up without their father or mother because you had things more important than them.
The people following Jesus across the Sea of Galilee weren’t coming for anything immoral. But they were following the dude who did miracles. And like the woman in Samaria who only had a surface-level understanding of what Jesus is talking about, they ask what they had to do in order to receive this eternal food.
Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Like many of us, perhaps, they wanted to know what this eternal food would cost. Think about. One meal for the rest of our lives? We’d never hunger again? We all know that would cost something, but what? And they ask, “what would it take for you to give us some of that bread?”
And Jesus responds, first by telling them that it’s not the result of anything they could pay or do. Biblically, this is the picture of grace. There’s nothing we can say or do to merit eternal life. God’s Word is clear. Salvation is nothing that we can earn. We can’t buy it, or earn it by doing enough good things, or praying enough, or reading our Bible enough, or tithing… It’s purely the gift of God.
Second, he says that they could receive the gift of eternal life by believing in Jesus. But apparently this is too much, so they decide that they need another sign.
So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ “ John 6:30-31 (ESV)
Another sign?! There was a crowd of over 5000 (I say that because the Bible records that there were 5000 men) and Jesus fed them with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish! And they want another sign?!
I have 3 kids and I like to eat. My wife usually appreciates it too. I’m not sure my house would be satisfied on 5 pieces of bread and 2 fish. And Jesus fed over 5000 men and their families! And they want another sign?!
They were busy searching for a SIGN instead of a SAVIOR. Some of you may be in a similar place. You’re wondering when the mist will lift, the sun will shine and then you’ll follow Jesus.
The truth is, if we take passages like this seriously, Jesus is the gift.
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life… John 6:32-36 (ESV)
Look. Don’t miss this. Jesus says that He is the gift. He is the Bread of Life, and we will hunger no more when we taste him. He is nourishment for the soul.
Some of you can attest to this. There are some who have faced unspeakable pain and hurt, but because they had tasted of this Bread, they were able to face those moments with the confident hope that comes from knowing Him.
Jesus has already fed these people once, but they missed what he was offering. He was offering them nothing less than himself. And isn’t that enough?
Do we follow Jesus because of something we expect from him or because of who he is? Or maybe we should ask the question that John Piper asks in God is the Gospel:
If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all of the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all of the natural beauty you ever saw, all of the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
The greatest gift God could ever offer us is fellowship and intimacy with him. If you and I were to sit down face to face, and I were to ask you why you chose to be a Christian what might you say?
I was afraid of going to hell.
I felt guilty and knew that I needed forgiveness.
My parents took me to church when I was a kid.
Or can you say that it is because you couldn’t imagine living without all that Jesus is?
Are you a Christian because of the GIFTS GIVEN, or the GIFT-GIVER?
Are you a Christian because the same Jesus who created the universe, stepped down from his throne where he was surrounded by angels singing “holy, holy, holy” and stepped into a world where he heard the people he created screaming “Crucify, Crucify, Crucify!”?
Are you a Christian because the one who hung the stars in the sky hung in your place on a wooden cross between 2 thieves?
Are you a Christian because the one who has always been was buried in a borrowed tomb? My tomb. Your tomb. And three days later, he sat up, moved the stone, and walked out showing his victory over death and the grave?
Are you a Christian because the one who stepped down from heaven rose back up to heaven and pleads on your behalf, and presents you holy and righteous before our Father in heaven?
Or are you a Christian because you had a guilty conscious and a bad dream of what hell might be like?
The truth is that’s a trick question. Because if that’s the case then I would probably say that you’re not a Christian at all. And so would Jesus.
So let me encourage you to linger for a moment and remember who Jesus is. Remember all that he has done for us. And remember why it is we follow him.