Scripture: John 6:22-30
The day after the feeding of the 5,000 and the windy night at sea is followed with a change in the relationship of the crowd to Jesus. He had sent them away the day before; we see here that they came back initially to where He had been, hoping to continue on with what had happened on the previous day.
“When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.” The term for seeking is not all that informative at face value (“to look for”) but the usage here implies that the group was seeking what they thought they had possessed and now had lost (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks). What does this imply but that they hoped in a sense to keep Jesus to their benefit, having laid claim to Him. It is like having a friendship for the perks but not necessarily because of the friend; no one wants friends only for what they can get out of them, but there are plenty of people who seek friendships for this end and there are people who think that others would only like them for what they have. The relationship Jesus offers is not simply about blessings and eternal life; we have to realize that the greatest gift He offers in salvation is Himself. Unfortunately, the gears often started turning in people’s minds at the miracles of Christ, some seeing Him as a golden ticket to a better life.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” Jesus’ response to their inquiry about when He came touches upon the word seek again. They did not seek Him because of seeing Him for who He was; they sought Him because of their experience of being fed and the great possibilities of what more He could do for them. They did not see the feeding as a sign but as a luxury. His reference to the bread in v. 27 will reflect His offer to the Samaritan woman of living water. “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.” Laboring for food which perishes means that their mindset was on the temporal, not the eternal. Their desires were earthly desires, and their will for Him was bound to fleeting lives in this world.
In the Old Testament passage of Deuteronomy 10:8-9, it says that “at that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God promised him.” Compared to the other tribes that got their portions of land, it may seem to the reader that the Levites got the “short end of the stick.” Didn’t all of the tribes have some access to God? The call to minister to the nation of Israel on the part of the Levites was an incredible inheritance; they got a closeness with God others would not get because of their roles. In similar fashion, it is not hard to imagine many, many people struggling if they found Heaven to be summed up in accessibility to God rather than the typical portrayal of a better, pain free life with no end in sight. Sadly, what we often are looking forward to as Christians is secondary to what we already have in our access to God through His Son.
“Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” This statement is reminiscent of another comment made in the book of Acts by Simon found in Acts 8:17-19:
“Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’”
The people were asking for the power to do the works similar to what they had seen Jesus do. What do we need to do to make bread and fish multiply like You did? What do we need to do to be able to heal others like You, Jesus? Just a thought: if Heaven could be had but God was erased from it, how many people would still want it? They were missing the point, that it wasn’t about an ability to do miracles, but that miracles were meant to highlight the Savior. Belief in Him, not the power to do what He did, would have been the appropriate response. The desire to do the works of God themselves apart from Him shows us how much they actually followed Jesus, or rather, followed His power.
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’” The work of God was defined by the people as the miraculous abilities they saw in Jesus. Jesus says that the miraculous work in them essentially would be belief, something spiritually dead people are incapable of doing apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. It still is the work of God when a person places their faith in Christ even now.
The last verse that we’ll look at today is the saddest indictment of the hearts of the people in this passage: “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do?’” This statement is like a flood light shining upon their blindness. He had healed many sick among them; He had fed 5,000 if not more (whether women and children were included in that number); the baskets were filled far beyond their needs and He had shown them great compassion. Despite these miracles, they still asked what He would do for them to believe in Him.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the passage concludes with the rich man being convinced that if Lazarus were to be made alive again, certainly the rich man’s family would believe and would avoid such a terrible end themselves. A person rising from the grave would cause people to believe, right? The passage concludes in vv. 29-31, “Abraham said to him,`They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said,`No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him,`If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'”
In referring to “Moses and the prophets,” Abraham is speaking of the Old Testament. The fact of the matter is, no one will believe in Jesus even if the most amazing miracles have happened, nor will they believe the Bible itself, unless God should work in their hearts. We fail to see so often how reliant we truly are upon the work of God to cause change in others or ourselves. It is no accident that the Bible records both those moments of faith and those places where we as readers wonder how on earth someone could not believe in Him with what He had done. People are not at the mercy of their free will, but the mercy of their mastery, and if slaves of sin, the slavery must be seen for what it is as the Lord comes calling with His offer of life. What more could Jesus do what with all He had done? Aside from the work of God, there is no amount of information or provision that will bring a person around.
It’s sad that a day of amazing blessings would pan into a following day of disbelief, but that is exactly where this passage is going. We will see the crowd clear out so much that Jesus will even ask His own disciples whether they want to leave, too. This passage leaves us having to face our own soul examination. Do we want Jesus or just the things of Jesus? Do we relate to Christ as followers or as freeloaders who could toss Him to the side? There is no other way to get behind Jesus than to follow Him as Lord. There is nothing more for Him to do than what has already been done. If the love of God in sending His Son to die on the cross and offer life isn’t enough for us to believe in God’s love, nothing else will do.
Prayer from Pastor Sam:
Lord, thank You for the access you give us to You. Thank You for the Holy Spirit, who guides us into truth, convicts us of our sin, and leads us in the paths You have laid out for us. Thank You for Jesus and for the death He died on the cross in our place. Thank You for the gospel, offered freely and fully to us. Give us wisdom in the decisions we make today as we seek to honor You and draw us back in Your time should we wander. I pray that the people would keep your word close to their hearts. Thank You, Lord for all of the blessings we lay claim to today, whether it’s the possessions You’ve granted us or the promises You’ve given to us. I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.