When I was a little girl, around 8 or 9 years old, I got to go on a class trip to visit a pioneer village (similar to Conner Prairie), and I was excited to go. The morning of the trip I decided to ask my mom for some spending money; money was tight in our home, and I was nervous and a little fearful to ask, but I worked up the courage and approached my mom. To say she was hesitant would be an understatement, but she foraged around in her purse and came up with a few dollars to give to me. Off I went, happy and yet feeling very guilty. When the time came to visit the gift shop to buy a souvenir, I knew right then that I was going to buy something for my mom. I agonized over every little thing in the store before finally deciding on a fresh jar of honey right off the prairie. After school, I could not WAIT to get home to give my mom the honey. I burst through the door, ran straight to her and handed her the bag. When she opened it, all that was in it was a shattered glass jar floating in a sticky mess. I was devastated. I sacrificed a gift for myself and had worked so hard at choosing something I thought would please my mom. I thought I would be able to make up for asking for money in the first place, and I could appease my guilt. Instead, I felt like I had completely failed.
Have you ever experienced something like this? You work hard to impress someone or try please them so that they will like you or think you are special or important but you fall short of the goal. // Have you ever tried to impress God? Have you worked hard to please him so that He'll like you - maybe love you or at the very least find you “acceptable”? I have. And it’s not a new idea - people have been trying to figure out what God wants from them for centuries. In his gospel, John gives us an account of an entire group of people who also wanted to know what they had to do to please God. Turn to John 6. (You want to use the house bibles, which are under the seat in front of you, you can turn to page 755. If you are at Fishers, raise your hand and an usher will bring you a Bible. Or if you want to download/use the Grace app, click on “sermon notes” for an outline and a link that will take you to the passage in YouVersion.)
Sign of Feed 5000 People
While you’re turning there, let me remind you what we’ve been considering in our “Beyond Belief” series. For about a month now we have been exploring what it means to believe in Jesus - that it might be more than what you think it means. As we journey through the gospel of John we have learned that his purpose in writing down these stories about Jesus is so that you would believe in Him. Because believing in Jesus is a matter of life and death. Believing in Jesus is more than just intellectual; and it’s risky; it means leaving what is safe to join in his mission. That brings us to today’s part of John’s story:
Jesus and his disciples were traveling around the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd began to follow them because Jesus was healing people and performing miraculous signs. Toward the end of the day, Jesus looked out and realized the people would be hungry and need to eat and so He takes the opportunity to give the crowd another sign. Jesus took five small loaves of bread and two little fish, blessed them and fed 5000 men and their families and there were leftovers. The people were impressed and began discussing how they could make Jesus their king. Before they could act on their idea, Jesus slipped away to be alone with His heavenly Father.
One work: Believe
Fast forward to the next day. The people awaken to find that Jesus and his disciples are gone and conclude that they are probably on the other side of the Sea. We’re going to pick up the story in chapter 6, verse 24:
Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
25When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi,when did you get here?”
26Jesus answered,“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me,not because you saw the signsI performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
Pause here for a moment. // John tells us that Jesus was aware of the reason the crowd was searching for him; he knew they were looking for food. But I wonder, as he saw them coming towards him, if he hoped they were coming for something more. I wonder if he held out some hope that maybe they were coming to him because they wanted more of him and not just what he could offer them. For some of you, it may seem weird to think of Jesus like that but keep in mind, he is human and so he experiences the same sort of emotions and feelings that you and I experience. It’s a little bit like when a child comes to a parent, wanting something. Some of you will know what I’m talking about either because you’re a parent or you’re the child. While you are “unsuspecting”, your son or daughter comes, gets really close to you - maybe climbs ups on your lap - and in the sweetest voice they can come up with, hits you with their true intentions. Or maybe you come home from a long day at work and your teenage son has voluntarily cleaned the kitchen and you just know that there is some ulterior motive. (Of course, I’m not speaking from personal experience…) But isn’t it wonderful when all they want is to be with you or just want to do something kind? I bet Jesus was hoping the crowd just wanted to be with him. However, he knew their hearts and tried to teach them to think about more than their stomachs. Look at verse 26 again;
Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me,not because you saw the signsI performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
Jesus goes on to say in verse 27,
27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that enduresto eternal life,which the Son of Manwill give you. For on him God the Father has placed his sealof approval.”
28Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus tells them they should work for food that never goes bad and will last forever. This immediately begs the question, “How do we get THAT? What work do we have to do to get access to a never-ending food supply?” These people were completely dependent upon what they could grow or raise for themselves; they could not run down to the corner store for bread if they ran out or make a quick trip to McDonalds. There were probably some people in the crowd, like me, who are horrible cooks and whose family was all ears, maybe hoping to escape slightly burned mac & cheese. As they were listening to Jesus, they heard another very important piece of information about what Jesus had to say about Himself - God has placed his seal of approval on Him. The crowd knew that having God’s approval meant being blessed by Him, and being blessed by God meant not only the provision of food but the hope of salvation from their enemies, the restoration of their nation and freedom. In particular, freedom from the hard work of being righteous, of trying to be good enough to please God. Food was important but pleasing God by obeying all the laws to impress him was imperative.
Jesus recognizes their need and answers with simplicity and clarity; he wants them to understand (verse 29):
“The work of God is this: to believein the one he has sent.”
In other words, the only work you have to do is to come and be in a relationship of trust with Jesus. (Repeat this)
Here’s what makes Jesus’ answer simple and clear: first, the word “work” in the Greek language is singular, meaning there is only one thing they have to do to please God. Their religious leaders and teachers were so concerned with making sure God’s law was not broken, they padded it. For example, the Law said not to heal on the Sabbath. To protect that law from being broken, people were forbidden to put salt on a wound - that would be form of healing. Now if they were eating something salty that happened to land on a sore tooth and “healing” happened, that would be alright because it wasn’t intentional or a direct attempt to heal yourself. There were so many of these addendums it made keeping the Law a heavy burden. Jesus makes it really simple for them: God only wants one thing from you.
Second, the one work God wants from them is to believe in Jesus and He means more than believing things about Him. There were a lot of things the people in the crowd believed about Jesus: he was a good man, he could heal people, he could give them food (Jesus had just given them the sign of feeding 5000+ people), and he was a great teacher. That was all pretty much factual information. But Jesus was talking about more than knowledge. In this series we have learned that the word “in” in Greek is more accurately understood as “into”; Jesus wants them to believe “into” Him. He is inviting them to come and be in a relationship of trust with Him. Like any relationship, it will take work. It will meaning learning how to be present with God, and learning what it means to depend on Him. It is a relationship that is life-giving, life-sustaining both now and in the future - THIS is the food that never spoils but endures to eternal life - and is only made possible because Jesus did the work of His father.
The crowd completely misses His invitation; they are still concerned with the here and now and with the sensationalism of signs and miracles. They want proof; look at verse 30
“What signthen will you give that we may see it and believe you?What will you do?31Our ancestors ate the mannain the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t Moses who gave them manna to eat; God was the one who sent it to their ancestors. And God is once again offering them bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. This is exactly what the people were waiting for; they want Jesus to give them that bread. Jesus patiently explains and repeats his invitation (verse 35-40):
“I amthe bread of life.Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever… (pause) believesin me will never be thirsty.36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not… (pause) believe.37All those the Father gives mewill come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.38For I have come down from heavennot to do my will but to do the willof him who sent me.39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.40For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Sonand… (pause) believes in him shall have eternal life,and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Jesus says, “It’s me! I’m the bread! I’m the one who can give you the life you’re looking for - now and forever.” The people are making it harder than it is; there is one thing they have to do - not a huge list of things. They want a sign but they’ve already been a part of a sign - Jesus fed them all yesterday which satisfied their hunger temporarily and was meant to point them to a more important reality, to Jesus, the “bread of life”, the one who GAVE them the bread and the one who would sustain them for all of eternity.
I wish I could tell you that the people finally caught on to what Jesus was saying but they didn’t. In fact, it was just too hard for them to believe that they could please God simply by trusting in Jesus. They couldn’t or wouldn’t believe and so many people walked away from Jesus that day - perhaps it just seemed too simple to be possible.
Jesus’ offer extends beyond that one point in time; it is still offered to you and to me. There is only one thing that God wants from you and that is to believe in Jesus; to enter into a relationship with Him. Maybe you’re like I used to be. When I decided I would follow Jesus it was because I was afraid of God, afraid not to believe in Him. And because of that, I did things I thought would make Him happy. I was always working hard to make up for the things I knew I shouldn’t have done, things that I knew God would not like. Just like I did with my mom, I was trying to appease Him, to buy his love and favour. But it never felt like enough… I never felt like enough. This went on for years, following Jesus and trying to please God in my own way, on my own terms. Until a day came when I realized that God didn’t want any of that. He just wants me. That’s it. He just wants me to come to Him, to know Him and learn to love Him and that happened when I decided to take Jesus up on His invitation.
How about you? Do you believe stuff about Jesus or do you “believe in” Jesus - do you trust Him? Maybe you’ve never had a relationship with God and you are trying to clean up your life so you’ll be good enough for Him. Is that you? Maybe you’re been following Jesus for a long time but you know you’ve made choices that are contrary to what pleases God. Are you trying to make up for your mistakes or ease you guilt? Sorry friends, none of that work is going to cut it. We can’t do it. There is only one thing that works and that’s surrendering everything you’re doing and putting your faith in what Jesus has already done. What is stopping you? Today is another opportunity for you to just stop. Will you accept the life that Jesus is offering? Take a moment and consider: what will it take for you to come to Jesus? (close in prayer)