22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 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. 27 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.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32 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. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
In an interesting way, great leaders are always judged by whether or not they provide bread for the people they govern. We remember fondly those leaders who cared for the well-being of their people. We remember harshly those leaders who lived well while people starved around them.
For instance, the night before she committed suicide or was murdered, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Joseph Stalin’s wife (who had become a Christian), bitterly shouted at the revelers attending a banquet of the wealthy and the powerful, “I hate you all! Look at this table, and the people are starving!”
Or, more famously, we might think of Queen Marie Antoinette’s infamous statement. While the words are almost certainly wrongly ascribed to her, the old story is that when she was informed that the peasants had no bread to eat, Marie Antoinette callously responded, “Let them eat cake!”
France’s Henry IV openly declared his desire that there would be “a chicken in every pot.” This hope was picked up by the Republican Party in 1928, with the addendum, “and a car in every garage.”
Yes, we may judge rulers on whether or not they provide bread for their followers. It’s always been that way. Bad rulers don’t care if the people have bread. Good rulers care a lot.
It is interesting, then, to find Jesus providing bread, miraculously, for the hungry crowd, then using their hunger for more bread to take them deeper into the reality of who He is. For Jesus indeed came to give sustenance to the world, but not in the way that the world imagined it. In fact, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand gave rise to certain tensions between what the people expected of Jesus and what He knew He needed to be for them.
Points of tension are good. These are the moments where we grow. So it was into these points of tension that Jesus stepped and led the people to a greater understanding of Himself.
The people wanted the immediate whereas Jesus wanted to give them the eternal.
In the aftermath of two dramatic miracles (the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water), Jesus has to clarify the meaning of the first miracle to those who come to Him again wanting more.
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
The disciples, you will remember, had gone to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When they left, Jesus was not with them. After the miraculous events of the night before, however, He arrives with them on the other shore.
The people, of course, want more of Jesus. But, in truth, what did they really want? Their true intentions, and the truth of who Jesus is and what He wanted to be for them would both surface in the conversation to come.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 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.
There can be no doubt that this revelation of the people’s flawed intentions for wanting to be near Christ stung and confused many of those in the crowd. It always stings when Jesus puts His finger on the unpleasant truth of who we really are and what we really want.
What was driving the people, Jesus revealed, was not a desire to know the One to whom the signs pointed, but rather a desire for the immediate gratification that the miraculously-provided loaves offered them.
They wanted bread.
In revealing this, Jesus announces one of the great, abiding, conflicts that exists among many who come to Him: the conflict between the immediate and the eternal.
The people wanted the immediate. They wanted bread…now! They would, of course, have claimed that they wanted Jesus. But, in truth, what they wanted wasn’t Jesus but more of the material offerings He earlier gave them.
After pointing out the reality of their hearts’ desires, Jesus next reveals the fallacy of this approach to Him:
27 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.”
“Do not labor for the food that perishes.” Do not set your hearts on the gifts, no matter how good, that are here only for a moment. Do not love the expression of love more than the One who loves you. Do not want what I am capable of giving you more than you want Me!
It is almost as if Jesus is saying, “I didn’t give you the bread to make you hungry for more bread. I gave you the bread to make you hungry for Me! Come unto Me! Don’t come unto My miracles. Don’t come unto the bread I have given you. Don’t come unto what you think I may do next. Come unto Me!”
Oh what a great, great tragedy this conflict between the immediate and the eternal has wrought in Christianity today. What carnage has been left because people, in the name of Jesus, desire the gifts more than the Giver?
The tyranny of immediacy – the desire for instant gratification at the hands of God (what Calvin Miller has called “the sensual thrall”) – is a powerful tyranny in the church today.
I read an expose on a large pastor in the Atlanta, GA, area who has grown a large and prosperous church that emphasizes immediate gratification. The article reported how, when offering time came, the people would all stand and wave their offering envelopes and shout, “I want my stuff! I want my stuff!”
There is perhaps no greater image of many in the church today than that: “I want my stuff!”
This was the cry of those who came to Jesus in search of more bread and this is the cry of many who come to Jesus today. “Give us more bread! Give us more wealth! I want my stuff!”
There is a whole army of prosperity preachers who teach that one of the great points of Christianity is that God wants you to have good bread whenever you want it and in whatever amounts you desire.
It is true that Jesus told us to pray for “daily bread,” but that is “daily bread.” It is bread for today, enough to live on.
Even then the Bible does not disparage wealth in and of itself, though it points out the inherent dangers that can come with it. But what the Word of God manifestly does not say is that the point of knowing Jesus is having what you want when you want it.
The people wanted provisions whereas Jesus wanted them to have a Person.
In verse 27, the Lord Jesus elevates the eternal above the temporal (while never denying that the temporal does, in a meaningful sense, matter) and calls upon those who would follow Him to “not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” So He has called them to labor, to work, for eternal food. Naturally, given their state of mind, they respond:
28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
This crowd, like all crowds that come to Jesus, are pragmatists. They want to know the nuts and bolts of what this labor for eternal things looks like. So they ask the same question that the rich young ruler asks in Luke 18:18: “What must I do?”
The very question reveals that their minds are still bound to the earth and to earthly things. What must we do to make this eternal bread happen? How do we achieve this amazing feat? Then Jesus goes on to show that they misunderstood the nature of this labor. He’s not talking about new ways to make even better bread. He’s talking about the only way to receive the only bread that lasts forever:
29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Ah! Here it is! When Jesus tells them to “labor…for the food that endures to eternal life” He means that they are to trust and believe in the Jesus who is the bread of life. In saying this, Jesus draws attention away from the provisions they are fixated on and onto the Person they are missing.
The point isn’t the bread, the point is the eternal Bread of Life, Jesus Himself, Who has come from Heaven to satisfy all who will partake of Him!
30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?
Will you allow me a moment to vent the full force of my amazement at this astounding question? “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?” What? What?! What sign? Did they really just ask Jesus what sign He was going to perform so they could believe in Him?
What had Jesus just done? What miracle did He just perform, leading them to seek Him out in this place?
Honestly, the mind boggles at the amazing lunacy of this request! Then again, it is just possible that they are using even this amazing revelation of Himself as an occasion to use Jesus for their own purposes. It is just possible that the sign they really want to confirm that He is God’s own Son, the bread from Heaven, is (you guessed it) more bread from the earth!
It is almost as if they simply refuse to go where Jesus is trying to take them mentally, spiritually, and psychologically. There is a pernicious determination implicit in this question that belies their utter determination to get more food out of Jesus.
So Jesus says, “It’s not about bread to eat, it’s about believing in the One who gave you bread to eat.” And the people seem to say, “Ok. Give us more bread so we can believe!”
The only thing that keeps us from an outright complete denunciation of these people is the painful realization that we are capable of the same myopic short-sightedness ourselves. It is difficult to break the terrible habit of wanting to use Jesus for our own purposes.
Then, their manipulation continues:
31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
Not only does this statement strengthen the connection between John 6 and the events of the Passover and Exodus, it also reveals just how far the people are willing to go to get Jesus to do for them what they want Him to do. “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness.”
Among other things, the people are no doubt seeking to move Jesus by the fact that Moses fed them in the wilderness. Do you see what they are doing? “Jesus, Moses, mighty Moses, the great Moses, he gave us food. This Moses, our hero, who we celebrate at this time of Passover, he cared for our physical needs. Would you like to be as mighty as Moses, Jesus? Moses gave us bread. Can’t you do the same just one more time?”
At least, that seems to be their common understanding of the events of the Exodus, as evidenced by Jesus’ response:
32 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.
Jesus attacks their unspoken assumption. He reminds them that it is not and never was about Moses. Indeed, Moses did not want it to be about Moses. It’s always been about the Lord God. It’s always been about the Father’s provision for His people. And here, in Jesus, Almighty God has offered them the greatest provision: the person of Jesus.
33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Ah! So the bread is a person! “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The people saw the bread as mere provision. Jesus revealed that the true bread was His own person. In doing so, Jesus wrenched their attention free from their unhealthy fixation on physical provision and temporal needs and focused it firmly on His own nature and person and work.
Life isn’t about provisions. Life is about a person.
Finally, the light of understanding seems to begin to dawn in their hearts and minds:
34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus’ response to this, I believe, is best read with an imaginative view of Jesus slapping his forehead and breathing out these words in amazed but loving exasperation:
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Take note that Jesus here uses the name of God that was given to Moses in response to Moses’ inquiry concerning how he was to explain his coming to Pharaoh. The Lord answers: “I am has sent you” (Exodus 3:14). This is the divine name that Jesus applies to Himself, thus, once again, strengthening the connection to the events of the Exodus: “I am the bread…” More than that, of course, it reveals once more the startling reality of Jesus’ diving nature.
Jesus, the person, fully God and fully man, is the bread that satisfies all hungers and quenches all thirsts.
It’s about a person, not provisions.
Church, have you planted your feet firmly in an understanding and knowledge of the fact that the person of Jesus is of infinitely more value than the temporal provisions for which you and I slowly ruin our lives? Upon what, exactly, are you spending your life?
It is a deep and abiding tragedy when the people of God yearn for and obsess over and weep over and fight over the temporal provisions of the world in the exact same way those who do not know Christ do these things. As if we did not have something of greater value freely offered to us! As if Christ isn’t enough! As if these provisions our culture is drunk on could add one iota to resplendent glory of the risen Christ!
Do not destroy yourself on the anvil of provision when the beautiful person of Christ is offered to you instead!
The people wanted to survive whereas Jesus wanted them to live.
Finally, we see the tension between mere survival and the full living of life that Jesus intends for his disciples to have and experience.
36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Christ is the eternal bread from Heaven, and those who trust and believe in Him are partakers of this eternal sustenance. That was true two-millennia ago and it is true today. We must trust and believe.
Of course, we do not trust and believe in a vacuum. God is at work in the hearts of those who trust in Christ. God is opening the ears and eyes of the lost man or woman who calls on Christ.
To what end does the Father give the Son those who come to Him?
38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
The end is nothing less than eternal salvation, eternal security, forgiveness, joy, and peace. In other words, bread will help you survive for a moment but Jesus will enable you to live for eternity.
The people wanted to survive. Jesus wanted them to live. Our culture wants to survive. Jesus wants us to live. “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
We spend our lives scratching for survival. Jesus gave His life to bestow upon us eternal life! But we can miss this life in our frantic lust for survival.
Is it possible that we love the lesser things so much that we miss the greater things? Is it possible that our society’s fixation with bread – with survival, with winning the rat race, with reaching our own goals, with getting that promotion, with getting that house, with reaching that financial goal, with having that relationship, with achieving that level of fame, with having as much stuff as our neighbors, with finally getting what we think God owes us – is it possible that our frantic, feeble, pitiful, soul-destroying obsession with these things can actually cause us to miss the greater gift and the greatest gift of Jesus?
How can this be? It can be because of fear. We fear to let go of the bread of survival and so we cannot receive the bread of eternal life, for we cannot receive a gift in hands that are too full of worthless trinkets and cheap diversions. We must let go of the lesser things to receive the greater things.
I believe that Jesus is here pleading with these dear, confused people to give up the lesser things so that He might give them the greater things.
There once was a little girl who had loving, caring parents. She loved her mommy and daddy and, like a lot of little girls, she had her daddy wrapped around her finger! He loved her so very much, and she loved him.
In fact, they had their own little nightly ritual that nurtured their love for one another. Each and every night, after dinner, her daddy would sit in his big chair in the den, next to the fireplace, and he would call his daughter to him. He never had to wait long, for the little girl delighted in these moments with her daddy.
So every night she crawled up into his lap and they talked. “What did you do today?” he would ask. “Oh, daddy, today I learned my letters! Would you like to hear? Daddy, today our teacher read us an amazing story! You’ll never believe what it was about!”
On and on it went, every night, to the delight of them both.
One night, as the little girl climbed into her daddy’s lap, she was particularly animated. “Daddy, you will never imagine what happened today!” “What happened sweetie? Tell me?” “Mommy bought me this!” And with that she held up a plastic necklace comprised of multi-colored, plastic beads.
Her father smiled at her mother then at his daughter and said, “Oh, honey, they are so very, very pretty! Put them around your neck and show me how they look.”
She did so and her daddy carried on with great enthusiasm: “Look at that! You look soooo pretty! How very pretty your necklace is!”
The next night the little girl crawled into her daddy’s lap. She had the beads on again and, like the night before, all she could talk about was her plastic, colorful beads. Her father complimented her and them yet again and then tried to change the subject to other topics, like her day and her life, the topics upon which their very relationship was built.
But the little girl was having nothing of this. She was so enamored with her plastic beads that they dominated her speech.
The next night, once again, her plastic necklace dominated the conversation. She could speak of nothing else.
By this time, her father was quite frustrated and somewhat concerned. His continued attempts to get his daughter to speak of other issues consistently failed. The little girl seemed to see nothing but her beads, her plastic necklace. Her interests did not and seemingly could not go beyond them.
The next night, she crawled into her daddy’s lap and started to talk about her beads again when her father stopped her.
“Honey, can I ask you a question?”
“Do you know that I love you?”
“Yes, daddy!” she said, smiling.
“Do you know that your daddy would never hurt you?”
“I know that, daddy.”
“And do you trust me?”
“Yes, daddy,” laughed the little girl, hugging herself to her father.
“Good,” said her daddy. “Honey, I want to ask you to do something. It’s something you might not understand, but I need you to trust me, okay?”
“Okay, daddy, of course. I trust you.”
“Honey, what I want you to do is this: I want you to hop off of my lap, walk over to the fire there in the fireplace, take off your necklace, and drop it in the flames.”
The little girls’ expression changed from joy to horror. Tears filled her eyes and, through quivering lips, she asked: “What, daddy?”
“I want you to trust me, honey. I want you to go and drop your necklace in the fire.”
For a brief moment the little girl stared into her father’s eyes while tears brimmed over the lids of her own. Slowly, she slid off of her father’s lap, walked to the fireplace, took off the necklace, hesitated, looked back at her father, turned back to the fire, and dropped her necklace into the flames.
The flames made quick work of the plastic necklace as the little girl turned and ran past her father to her room where she cried herself to sleep.
The next night, after dinner, for the first time ever, the girls’ father had to ask her to come and sit with him. Slowly, her head lowered, her feet shuffling, she walked to her waiting father. He picked her up with strong hands, placed her on his lap, and hugged her tightly to himself. Again, the tears flowed down her cheeks.
After a moment, and a kiss on the head, her father spoke: “Sweetie, do you know that your daddy loves you?” She slowly nodded her “yes.” “Did it make you sad to have to throw your beads into the fire last night?” Again, the silent nod. “And do you understand why I asked you to do such a thing?” This time, a nodded “no.”
At this, her father lifted her face up so that their eyes might meet. “I know it was painful dear. I know you do not understand. But I asked you to throw your beads away because I need for you to know something very important. I need for you to know, dear, that your father will never ask you to give anything up unless he has something better to give you.”
And with that, her father reached into his shirt pocket and slowly drew out a pristine, perfect, beautiful strand of costly white pearls. To her amazement, he held the pearls before her face for a moment and then affixed them around her neck, saying as he did so: “I love you so much, honey!”
I believe that this is an accurate illustration of the nature of the God we serve. Yes, He asks us to give up those treasures that dominate our small horizons – our bread, our provisions, our survival – but He only does so because He wishes to give us something greater.
He wants us to give up our worthless beads so that He might give us pearls. He wants us to let go of the bread that has come to dominate us so that He might give us Christ.
Christ is the pearl necklace.
Christ is the greater gift.
Christ is the eternal, all-satisfying bread of God.
Christ is all.
Christ is enough.
Central Baptist Church: Christ is enough.