It’s been two weeks since we’ve been in John’s gospel so let me remind you where we are. In the beginning of chapter 6 we saw Jesus perform a miracle worthy of all four gospels, the feeding of the 5,000 when He turned a young lad’s lunch into a meal for the multitude. After the crowd had eaten their full they concluded that Jesus would be the perfect political leader they needed, so they sought to take Him and force Him to be king. Jesus knew this, so He left the scene of the miracle and ventured further up the mountain by Himself. When evening came His disciples got into a boat and left to go back home. During their trip a large storm arose, they tried to labor through it, but only made it so far. Then they saw something they’d never forget and grew frightened when they saw Jesus walking on the waves of the sea coming toward them. To their disbelief He got into their boat and calmed their fears with a declaration of His deity in v20 giving us one of His 23 I AM statements saying “It is I (EGO EIMI), do not be afraid.”

Now we come to our passage today, where we see this same crowd of people doing three things, seeking Jesus (v22-24), finding Jesus (v25-27), and misunderstanding Jesus (v28-34).

Seeking Jesus (v22-24)

As we approach v22 in John 6, we find that morning has now come and the same crowd that witnessed the miracle and ate their full was again seeking Jesus (probably still trying to make Him king). But as the morning light dawned they grew confused. v22-24 tell us their confusion had to do with the number of boats present down by the dock. Apparently they knew two things: first, that there had only been one boat present the evening before. And second, that the disciples alone got into that boat and left when evening came to go back to Capernaum. So you see their confusion: if the disciples had used the only boat and left without Jesus why could they not find Jesus? He should still be there somewhere on the mountain, but they couldn’t find Him. Well, during the night other boats had come over from Tiberias after the disciples left, so when they realized they couldn’t find Jesus they got into those boats and set off, this time hoping to find Jesus in Capernaum.

So as our passage opens see the scene that John is painting for us. A crowd of people, the same multitude that ate the miraculous meal is still looking for Jesus…eager to find Him and force Him to be their king. Let’s continue to see what happens.

Finding Jesus (v25-27)

In v25 the crowd of people gets to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they find Jesus in Capernaum, and say to Him “Rabbi, when did you come here?” They know the disciples had taken the only boat, so according to them Jesus had no way of getting to the other side of the Sea, so they’re really asking Jesus, ‘How did you get here?’ Now, they are numerous times that Jesus answers questions people ask Him, but rarely does He answer in ways people want Him to if He answers their questions at all. When we hear this crowd ask their question in v25 we want Jesus to answer them clearly and emphatically just to see their reaction. ‘You’re right, there were no boats for me to take across the sea. How then did I get here? I walked.’[1] But He doesn’t do this, He doesn’t even answer their question. Instead He points out in v26 what the people are really after. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” What does Jesus mean? The reason underneath all other reasons for searching and coming to Jesus was because their hunger had been satisfied. So at the previous day’s miracle “Instead of seeing in the bread the sign, they had seen in the sign only the bread…They were moved not by full hearts, but by full bellies.”[2] True, they witnessed a wonder but they completely missed what the sign signified.

I don’t think this hits us as it should in our current context. We live in a place and time when food is abundant and relatively easy to get, but in this day it was not so easy to come by abundant food. Hunger wasn’t a rare, and for many of them it was a constant reality. So to be hungry and to then see someone come and provide food enough for all to eat as much as they wanted would’ve been something extremely rare, so rare, that once you see this you’d want to do all you could to stay as close as you could to that person. This is what the crowd is feeling as they approach Jesus. But Jesus cuts through their question and addressed their heart issue. They were in a very real sense, fair weather fans of Christ, willing to seek after and even follow Him. But they only sought Him and followed Him for His benefits, or more precisely, when His benefits benefitted them.[3] I believe you and I are challenged here seeing v26, and hearing Jesus’ response to the crowd…because while we may point the finger at other people and believe them to be shallow in their devotion to Christ, I don’t think we have to go very far to find fair weather followers of Christ.

One example: if asked what we believe about the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel peddled on TV most everyone in this room wouldn’t hesitate to denounce it as a false movement, preaching a false gospel, creating false converts. We would quickly say that to believe in God seeking to be rich and secure and comfortable is dishonoring to God and harmful to people. But, pause and think about that. When things are going well, when we or our children remain healthy, when our quality work is being noticed by our boss, when there’s no trouble in life – we are quick to say ‘God is good! Praise Him!’ Where are the people still saying ‘Praise God, God is good!’ when sickness lingers or increases? Where are the people still believing in God’s goodness when work isn’t going so well or when other people get noticed? Where are the people still praising God for His faithfulness when there is trouble in life? We say we denounce the false prosperity message, but why do we stop praising God when we experience anything but prosperity? We are far more fair-weather followers of Christ than we realize, using God for our own ends, believing in Christ only because it increases our own self-esteem, treating Him as nothing more than a cosmic butler who exists to increase our comfort, and eagerly embracing the gospel as if there were no bitterness in Christ’s cross.[4]

This mindset is precisely the mindset of this crowd who approaches Jesus in v25. At the end of chapter 6 we’ll see most of these fair weather followers leave Christ when He begins teaching things that don’t fit their liking. So perhaps we need to hear v26 anew and remember that when we come to Jesus we don’t come on our own terms with our own agenda, we come to Him rightly when we come to Him on His terms, bowing to His agenda, regardless the cost to us.

Jesus continues on in v27, “Do not work 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.” We all know what this means. Having once been a teenage boy I can remember my mother coming home with a car full of groceries in the morning and wondering that same evening why there wasn’t any food in the house! Physical food doesn’t last.[5] Here Jesus directs this crowd away from worldly labor which results in food that doesn’t last and directs them towards heavenly labor which results in food that endures forever. What is this food? It’s surely not found at Aldi or Publix. It’s spiritual food not physical food, eaten by the soul and not the mouth. More specifically, the food being spoken of here is affection for, love towards, and the abundant life promised in Christ that only comes from communion with Christ.

As you can imagine, this crowd doesn’t quite follow what Jesus is speaking of here, which brings us to our next point. We’ve seen the crowd seek Jesus, find Jesus, we now see them misunderstand Jesus.

Misunderstanding Jesus (v28-34)

In v28-34 we see the crowd misunderstand Jesus three times.

Misunderstanding #1 (v28-29)

After telling them of the food that endures forever they respond saying in v28-29, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Apparently they had understood v27 in part and concluded that they needed this true food that lasts forever. This is good that they got this, but they went wrong in thinking they had to work to get it. We can sympathize with this crowd here. It’s natural for us to think we have to work for God to get something in return from God. One of the reasons we often misunderstand Jesus is because the gospel doesn’t work like that. Romans 4:4-5 explains this when it says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” It’s faith alone that saves, faith in the work of Christ on our behalf. Jesus corrects this crowd in v29 and says something astonishing, that believing in Him is the work of God. So the food that endures forever is food freely given and food freely received. It comes to us through faith. Notice that according to Jesus faith and work are not separate things, here in this one phrase He links these two ideas together. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Me.” What does this mean? The theologian of early Church history, Augustine, once explained it like this, “Believe, and you’ll find that you have eaten already.”[6] Or in other words, ‘believe in Jesus, and you’ll find your soul full.’

The crowd then showed further misunderstanding as we see their response, which brings us to…

Misunderstanding #2 (v30-33)

They respond to this in v30-31, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” You feel the tone of this response? It seems this crowd is saying something like this, ‘We’re not really interested in the great sign you did yesterday when you fed thousands of us, haven’t you heard God fed Israel everyday for 40 years in the wilderness? Can’t you do something like that?’ We learn something new about this crowd here. Sure they may have accepted that Jesus performed a miracle the day before, but it wasn’t enough for them. After all, that was yesterday and it’s now today. They were looking for something bigger today.[7] They probably wanted this bigger sign because in Jewish culture at this time, there was a belief that the true Messiah would bring Manna from heaven with Him. They clearly believed this. Even so, can you believe they were speaking to Jesus in this way?

This is audacious, that they would impose on Christ the sign they must have before they would believe.[8] ‘Moses gave us bread from heaven, you only gave us common bread. Moses fed a whole nation for 40 years, you only fed the multitude for one meal. Can’t you do something more like that?’ Commenting on this J.C. Ryle points out the obvious similarity in us saying, “They were always deceiving themselves with the idea that they wanted more evidence, and pretending that if they had this evidence they would believe. Thousands in every age do just the same…the plain truth is that it is lack of heart, not lack of evidence, that keeps people back from Christ.”[9] Do you treat Jesus like this? Having the audacity to demand more and more signs and more and more proof of who He is before you will believe in Him? Similar to what Gideon did to God before He would obey Him? If that’s you be honest, all the evidence in the world wouldn’t change your mind would it? The simple truth is that you don’t want to believe in Him, because if you truly believed in Him you’d have to leave your sin behind, and you love your sin too much to leave it. Some of the crowd that day was surely in this position, and I do not doubt that some of you here today may be there as well.

Listen carefully to how Jesus responds to this misunderstanding in v32-33, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father who 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.” In His response He corrects and clarifies two things for them. First, the manna from heaven wasn’t from Moses, it was from God. Second, the manna itself wasn’t the true bread of heaven, He is. He makes it clear that the manna in the wilderness only fed one nation but He, the true manna/bread of heaven, feeds all those who come to Him from every nation. The manna in the wilderness ran out daily, but He satisfies the souls of those who come to Him forever. There could not be a bigger difference between what the crowd expected from Him and what He came to offer. This crowd was severely mistaken, thinking the dawn of the Messiah would bring an abundance of materialistic wealth similar to the wealth Israel gained in plundering Egypt after the Exodus.

How sad is this scene before us? Here’s a spiritually dead and needy crowd, hungering for more of what they think Jesus can be for them, completely missing the point of everything Jesus is laying out before them. And here is Jesus, whose not come to bring physical manna or satisfy any materialistic expectation of theirs, but to make those who believe in Him spiritually abound in every way imaginable. Everything He’s saying here points to the essentially spiritual nature of the kingdom He is now bringing into the world,[10] and those who are hearing Him can’t seem to get past their preconceived ideas about who the Messiah is and what He’ll bring to them.

Picture it like this. Let’s say Holly and I invite you over for dinner and we prepare a robust meal for you. There’s a big salad to prepare for the greater meal to come. We fix your favorite meat, just the way you like it, steaming garlic and cheesy mashed potatoes, crisp asparagus, and a refreshing choice of beverages to wash it down. What a dinner! But wait, there’s a choice of dessert afterwards, warm thick crusted apple pie, or dark and rich chocolate cake. This would be a meal fit for a king! Say we invited you to come over to enjoy this with us and after we begin serving each other you reach into your pocket and pull out a peanut butter sandwich to eat instead. Noting would be more ridiculous, nothing would be more rude…to have been invited to a feast, prepared for you, laid out for you, offered to you, and you turning it down for something so much smaller. In that moment you’d not only be dishonoring Holly and I, you’d be fooling yourself thinking your peanut butter sandwich is better when even a child can see which meal is better!

This is how this crowd is treating Jesus in this moment, and sadly this is how many people, perhaps you yourself, treat Jesus today. In the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, Christ Himself offers the richest of meals for us to glut our souls on. And what do we do? Turn to something else thinking it will fill up our souls. Believing in Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel will make us spiritually abound in every way imaginable. O that you would see this and stop turning away from it to empty things that can’t satisfy the soul. 

Conclusion:

Misunderstanding #3 (v34)

Misunderstanding #3, and I’ll close with this, is in v34. After all of this they look at Jesus and say, “Sir, give us this bread always.” If only they knew what they were asking for! If only they had eyes to see the glory of the One standing before them! If only they had hearts to feel His joy, ears to hear His Word, a true longing that desired the bread He offers! If only we knew what is at stake for God’s eternal glory and our eternal satisfaction each week we come and gather here! Jesus will continue responding to this crowd, and in so doing, He’s about to make one of the most famous statements in this gospel, which Lord willing, we’ll see next week as we continue in John 6.

 

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 111.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 358.

[3] Sproul, page 111.

[4] John Calvin, quoted in Leon Morris, NICNT, page 358 – footnote 64.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 207.

[6] Leon Morris, page 360 – footnote 76.

[7] R. Kent Hughes, page 208-209.

[8] Leon Morris, page 362.

[9] Ibid., page 362 – footnote 81.

[10] Ibid., page 364-365.

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