When we seek to follow Jesus, what is it that we’re looking for? What are we hoping to find? When you started this journey of faith and discovery, dove into the spiritual pool as it were, what were you really after?
Was it spiritual enlightenment? Some sort of feel good sentimentality to elevate your self-esteem?
Were you chasing an emotional high you got one time after attending a worship night where the band was on fire and you just knew that you wanted to be that high always?
Were you after some sort of validation and order to arrange your life around so everything is structured and catalogued and planned down to the minute whenever you “worship”?
What do you think it’s really all about?
Jesus posed some similar questions in John’s account. There was a multitude of people following Him but their reasons for doing so were varied and, in most cases, coming from a flawed understanding of His purpose. In fact, by the end of this portion of the account great numbers of those who were following Him turned and left because they could not accept what was being revealed to them about the heart and nature of God and His purpose for sending Jesus to them.
Context is everything, so we begin with one of the amazing miracles that Jesus performed among the people – the feeding of the “5000”
Read John 6:1-13
Five loaves and two fish, that’s all. In truth, Jesus didn’t even need these things to facilitate the miracle He performed yet He used this meager fare to illustrate His point. There are some really interesting things to note about this passage:
- John is the only one of the four gospel writers to specifically mention that this event takes place near the Passover celebration – all four write about this miracle.
- Jesus already has a plan, but He inquires of Phillip where they can buy bread for the people
- Phillip is a smart guy, and even knows that six month’s wages (200 denarii) won’t feed all these people – but that knowledge is not really helpful
- Only the men are counted in the 5000, but this was certainly not a male exclusive gathering. There were also women and children present and that would very possibly double the total number of people fed.
God uses the small and simple things, the ordinary and overlooked to show what He can do. The bread is specifically called out as barley loaves, which was very simple fare in those times and even considered to be fit more for animals than people.
Jesus has everyone sit and then He gives thanks to the Father for His provision and begins to pass the food out to the disciples who in turn begin distributing it to the people, allowing each person to take their fill. That’s important. There was no limit on what the people could take as the food was distributed, no restriction.
One of the commentator’s I read while studying this passage, David Guzik, noted this about the fact that this miracle was performed using bread:
“Bread comes from grain, which has the power of multiplication and reproduction within itself. But when it is made into bread, the grain is crushed, making it “dead” – no one ever multiplied wheat by planting flour. But Jesus can bring life from death”
Once they ate their fill, Jesus had the disciples gather up the remains of the food so it wouldn’t be wasted, which resulted in 12 baskets of leftovers!
Read John 6:14-21
So the people experience this miracle and they think their prophet has come. Verse 14 is a direct reference to Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses advised that the Lord would raise up a prophet from their midst like him and that they would listen. It also speaks to the prevailing understanding that the coming messiah would be a political leader and would crush the oppressors and restore the unified kingdom of Israel to its rightful place. Jesus senses this and withdraws from them; this is not the purpose of His coming. The people were groaning under the yoke of the Romans and were seeking a revolutionary leader, and they were willing to install one by force if necessary. This messiah truly was revolutionary, but in a way that they could not yet grasp.
After Jesus withdraws to be alone, the disciples head down to the shore and at nightfall they begin crossing the sea of Capernaum. I’ve always found this interesting; the disciples get into the boat and begin to cross without Jesus with them. Seems a bit odd. In the other gospels, Matthew and Mark both write that Jesus asked them to begin crossing without Him while He dismissed the crowd. The disciples comply and during the journey, the weather really kicks up with some strong wind that just makes the sea difficult to traverse. They had to be frustrated and tired, as they had been rowing for most of the night and had only managed to cover half the distance across the sea. That’s when things got really strange. Jesus walked out on the water to them, which terrified them at first! They thought it was some sort of ghost or spirit, surely something terrible to torment them in the midst of the terrible weather they were already experiencing. Jesus reassures them that it is He who is coming to them. They bring Him into the boat and then they’re immediately at their destination. Amazing.
Both of those first two accounts are great examples of Jesus demonstrating servant leadership and the selflessness He seeks from us in following Him. He wouldn’t turn stones to bread to feed Himself in the desert, but He would multiply the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry crowd. He wouldn’t throw himself off the pinnacle of the Temple to glorify Himself but He walked on the water to provide comfort to His disciples.
Read John 6:22-40
The next morning, the people are puzzled. They see only one boat on the other shore, and they know Jesus did not get into the boat with His disciples when they left. They row across and go to find Him, and upon doing so they want to know when He got there. Jesus skips this altogether and doesn’t answer why and how He’s there and instead tells them why they have followed Him. This crowd, like so many people today, was interested in Jesus because he fulfilled something for them materially and not because they were truly seeking after God’s purpose in their lives. He fed them and they were hoping to see this miracle again. How many people today are following Jesus because someone out there told them He was the way to wealth and possessions and that God has a plan to make them rich? How many of those same people will turn away the second things don’t go that way…because God is not a wishing well and Jesus is not some genie there to grant you all your heart’s desire.
Jesus questions their motives, and admonishes them to seek that which lasts – the true bread of life the Son of God provides. They ask what they have to do to do the work of God and get this bread which never perishes. Their thinking in asking this question is still motivated in themselves – what works do I have to do to proclaim that I am a good person and righteous and earn God’s favor and promise. This is flawed…and also not unlike a lot of people today in all walks of life that still believe that it’s the things they do that will prove they are good and deserving. That following all the self-imposed religious rules will somehow make God sit up and take notice of just how pious they are and be proud of the straight lines they walk in. Jesus turns this all on its head. The work of God is to believe in the one whom was sent. Accept and trust Jesus and that He is the one God sent.
The people scratch their heads at this and ask what He’s going to do to prove himself. What miracle is He going to perform to validate that He’s the one God sent; because Moses gave their fathers manna in the desert. Jesus points out that while they were fed it was not the bread of heaven that the Israelites received wandering in the desert – The bread of heaven was there before them now in the person of Jesus to proclaim God’s word and provide salvation in and through Him. I also find it a bit crazy that their asking what else will He do – He fed you all yesterday from five loaves and two fish!
Jesus is trying to pierce through their dim understanding. He’s trying to connect the dots for them that this isn’t just about physical sustenance, but about a spiritual awakening. When they ask Him to always provide this everlasting bread, He reiterates that He is the bread of life and that he will accept all that come to Him earnestly seeking this awakening. He is here to do the Father’s will and all who believe Him will be saved.
Read John 6:41-46
The people start to get a bit unnerved by this. Most of these folks are from the area that Jesus grew up in. They know His parents. How can He claim to be the Son of God? The Jewish people felt that they had an automatic “in” with God as they were his chosen people, regardless of the fact that their religious set up had handicapped them from actually reaching Him. God was calling them, and the ones who heard His voice were coming to Jesus. He was trying to break them free from the bondage they had imposed upon themselves through a dead system.
Read John 6:47-59
There is a common food theme running through this whole exchange. Jesus is using a pretty common figure of speech that was utilized in communication culturally at that time. It was understood that a reference to eating something meant to take it into your innermost being, to make it a part of you. Jesus tells them that He is not the manna their fathers ate – they are dead. He is not just a brief answer to physical sustenance. He is an answer to spiritual renewal and everlasting life. He tells them to eat His flesh and drink His blood – that by the breaking of these things He will bring salvation to all. He’s foreshadowing the sacrifice He’ll make. The people don’t see how this is possible, they’re still only thinking on a carnal level. Jesus makes it plain that we have to partake; He is not going to force it on us. The sacrifice was made on our behalf but we have to choose Him. He makes it plainer in the following section.
Read John 6:60-66
The larger group of the people who had been following Him say it’s a hard teaching; not that they have a hard time understanding Him but they are having a hard time accepting it. That isn’t to say that some of what was said to them wasn’t a little bit mysterious, but the parts they did understand were a bit difficult to swallow. Jesus was asking for full devotion – everything else in life is secondary. He asks if they’re offended by this….what if they saw Him in His former state of transfigured glory, would they be singing a different tune? Jesus is continually calling them, and us, to check their focus and ensure it’s not on the flesh. He tells them that the only ones that have come to Him are those granted by the Father. He knows their motives. He knows there are some there for the wrong reasons and He calls them out. They don’t like it and they turn away. There is so much in this that speaks to a lot of people in churches today. They’ve come because they’ve been told that God will fix their lives, that once they say a prayer and sign up they will have everything all worked out and their eternal destiny secured. Their finances will always line up and they’ll be happy. Jesus is not some wonder pill that magically corrects every screwed up thing that’s happening in your life. He isn’t there just to satisfy our physical needs whenever we want them like eating a sandwich when we’re hungry. He’s so much more than that. He is good and wants good things for us, but that doesn’t mean it will always be easy. That’s the point of trust and faith – are you still willing to hold onto those things even when nothing seems to be going right at all?
Read John 6:67-71
Man! Watching all those other turn and walk away, and Jesus still searches the hearts of the twelve closest to Him – will you leave too? Peter has a great response: Where else would we go? Lord we’ve left behind families and friends and careers to follow you. You have the words of eternal life, not just food for our bellies. We believe you’re the Christ, Son of the Living God. Peter gets it right this time.
Even with all of that Jesus still points out that one of the twelve is a devil. The juxtaposition of the devotion of the others with Judas’s impending betrayal makes it that much more terrible.
Life with Jesus is hard. There are things that still happen that we don’t understand or fathom why we have to experience it. It’s a difficult road, but it’s a good one. It’s worth it, and it satisfies.
There are a lot of things in life that I am tired of, things that I am weary of hearing about and experiencing. Things that are infuriating and heartrending. Even in the midst of all of that I am not tired of Jesus, of trusting Him to sustain me. I am not tired of walking with Him, even if I might wander along the way.