We know it. Somehow, we know when after explaining something, the other person isn’t getting it. It can be exasperating trying to find the right words to say or the right metaphor for someone’s light bulb of understanding to glow. Of course, we’re never the dim bulb, are we? (read that with a healthy dose of sarcasm) In today’s passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus encounters the same kind of exasperating conversation, which leads towards a giant revelation.
For space sake, we aren’t including the whole text. So, when you get a chance, read John 6:22-40.
After the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus’ walk on the waves, John returns to the crowd left behind. They couldn’t understand where Jesus went. So, they found boats and went over to the other side of the sea to look for Him. They found Him, what follows is a series of questions and answers.
The first question is a typical one. “When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” It seems like a reasonable question. But in a manner similar to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus doesn’t supply a straight answer but goes right to their heart. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal,” Jesus said.
There is an important insight into the human soul and the right way forward with God in that answer. So often we do spiritual things to get physical things. We seek after Jesus because of what we think or feel He can do something us. But Jesus said the greater is to work for “the food which endures.” Remember what Jesus said about himself, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34, NASB95) Getting this right is the core truth in relating with God.
The crowd’s next question again seems reasonable and that they are following Jesus’ train of thought. “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” This is one of the most common of all questions for those following Christ. What is it that I am supposed to do? Jesus’ answer demolishes many of our preconceived notions. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent,” Jesus answered. The “do” is to believe in Jesus. Believe that God sent Jesus ala John 3:16-17.
But I want to do something! Let me give you a large helping of spiritual advice. Believe first, doing follows – get that order right. Works do not create faith – faith leads to works. In every other religion or system of belief (as far as I know), doing things come first. Say these prayers, do these actions, and then you will be blessed. The core of Christianity is completely the opposite. God made the way even though we don’t deserve it. The only ask, the only requirement is to believe in God and in what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. The result is a relationship with God and a desire to “do.”
The crowd’s next question is a challenge to Jesus. “What then do You do for a sign, so 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 out of heaven to eat.’” Keep in mind that this is the exact same crowd that sat on the hillside and were miraculously fed from five loaves and two fish. This is the classic “what have you done for me lately” test. But I wonder if the crowd wasn’t trying to goad Jesus into replicating the wilderness manna for them – 40 years of free food!
Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Jesus leaned into the bread metaphor to again explain what God is up to. To which the crowd replied, “Lord, always give us this bread.”
There are two things to note in the crowd’s request. The word “lord” in this case is more akin to sir than a declaration of lordship. The second is that the crowd didn’t get it. They’re still asking for physical bread regardless of its source. The light bulb of understanding did not turn on.
Jesus’ reply to their request is powerful – “I am the bread of life.” This is not some spiritual metaphor; this is laid out truth. “I am” connects all the back to when Moses encountered God at the burning bush. “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14, NASB95) From that “I am” is what theologians call the Tetragrammaton – YHWH. The name of God our English translations renders as lord, Yahweh, Jehovah.
What the crowd didn’t get is this. The very thing they were asking for is Him, is Jesus. They just didn’t get it. And so often neither do we. We are fearful and anxious. We earnestly pray for God to change all the circumstances that brought us there. To heal, to provide, to change someone, to alter current conditions, to answer, to give us bread. Those prayers are valid. But the answer is that Jesus is our peace, He is our comfort, He is our sustainer, He loves us, Jesus is our bread of life. The only requirement on our part is that we believe.