In our study this week, Jesus doesn’t seem too thrilled with the idea that people want more of him. You’d think Jesus would be ecstatic that a crowd was seeking after him, right? Isn’t that the goal? That more people would want Jesus in their lives? As we continue with the rest of the passage, see for yourselves. Look at John 6, verses 25-29,
“When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval’.”
Consider what Jesus must have felt in this moment. I don’t know what it is like to be a celebrity on Jesus’ level, but I’ve heard celebrities talk about their experience of celebrity. Celebrities are visible. They’re up front, on TV, on social media. They get followed around, as crowds of people want photo ops, autographs, and reporters try to interview them. It can be hard for celebrities to find privacy. Some celebrities go to elaborate lengths to have privacy for themselves and their families. But there are still plenty of films, books, interviews, videos about them. They can’t escape being known.
The result is that we can get to know them, or rather, we get to know about them. As I’ve written previously, the celebrity I know the most about is, Bono, the lead singer of the band, U2, but I’ve never met him. The closest I’ve gotten is the two times I saw U2 in concert. If I did meet him, I’m sure I would be awkward. I could converse with him about all sorts of things in his life, but he knows nothing of mine. I already feel I have a rapport with him. I’ve often thought that I bet we would really get along well. But that’s a very one-sided, isn’t it? It’s all about me. It’s really about what I feel, what I know, what I can get out of him.
Think about how Jesus might be feeling, surrounded by a crowd of people who are a bit star struck. They think he just might be the promised Messiah, and in fact, just the previous day they were talking about making him king…by force. That was not something Jesus asked for. It was not something he wanted. His mission was not to be a governmental or military ruler. But that’s how bizarre celebrity worship can become. We can place our hopes and dreams on a person, who is just another human. We can say things like “They are so cool. They are so amazing. They are so good looking. They are so talented.” This crowd was projecting their desires on Jesus, and they wanted more and more from him, for what they could get out of him.
Notice what he says to them. He reveals their hearts, their intentions. Look at verse 26, “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill’.” Let me try to put Jesus’ words another way. I believe Jesus is saying, “Look deep inside, people. You’re so eager for me because of the miracles, because they make you feel good. But you’re thinking shortsightedly. You’re thinking about yourself, about your stomach. That’s not what you should be thinking about!”
In verse 27, he sets them right. He focuses them beyond themselves. He turns their gaze from the inward to the outward. He says, “You need to think eternally.” They wanted food, but Jesus wanted to give them the food that endures to eternal life. That’s the kind of food they should work for. Then Jesus concluded with one of his mysterious sayings, “The food that lasts for eternal life, the Son of Man will give you that food because the Father has placed his seal of approval on him.”
We’re going to find out that the crowd doesn’t understand this. But before that, notice what Jesus says. He says “The Son of Man,” which is his most common way of referring to himself, will give some kind of eternal food that doesn’t spoil, because the Father has placed his seal of approval on him.
It got me thinking about the packaging that food companies put on our food. Seals of approval. Best by dates. Sell by dates. The food Jesus offers has God’s seal of approval, saying this food will last forever. But what does that mean? Forever? It sure sounds good. What is God’s seal of approval? It could be that Jesus is referring to his baptism when God said in a voice, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” That statement by God was God’s seal of approval. Jesus is good to go. He will not spoil. In Jesus’ day there was no refrigeration, and very rudimentary preservation, so they knew about spoiled food. To hear that food that could endure for eternal life probably seemed outrageous. I wonder if they were a bit confused.
So they ask Jesus a clarifying question in verses 28-29,
“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’.”
I find their question interesting. They refer to works God requires. They seem to have a sense that Jesus isn’t talking strictly about real food here. Maybe the idea of food that lasts forever clued them in. They are right. There is work that God requires. And Jesus spells it out. The work is to believe that in the one God sent.
There has long been a debate about how we are saved by grace apart from works. Aren’t we working, doing something, when we choose to place our faith in Jesus? Jesus even calls it a “work” to believe. Some people think there should be quotation marks around that word “work” in verse 29. Jesus doesn’t mean that it is work in the literal sense of the word “work.” When we place our faith in Jesus, we are not working in the sense of keeping the law, or doing a variety of good deeds. We are simply saying, “Jesus, I trust in your work, your birth, life, death and resurrection, which are work that I could never do.”
Ill admit that Jesus can be confusing when he says, “believe.” We hear “believe” and we think, “I believe in that. Check.” We hear “believe” and we understand Jesus to mean that we should agree with an idea. But Jesus is not simply talking about a belief in our minds. We show what we believe by our actions and our choices.
“But isn’t that work?”, someone might say. Yes, in the sense that we are making choices, and we are acting with our bodies. But we are not believing that our work is what will save us. Only Jesus could do that work. Instead, the work we do with our bodies, the actions, the choices, the real-life following of Jesus in the moments and days of our lives, that is work that shows what we believe. That is a very different work than the work only Jesus could do.
After hearing Jesus talk about believing in him, you’d think that the people would say, “Oh yeah! I believe in you Jesus. Check.” Especially after they just experienced his miracle of feeding the 5,000 and especially after they were so excited they wanted to make him king. “Yes! I believe!” But nope. That’s not what happens at all. Maybe it is Jesus’ slant way of answering them. Maybe it was because he disappeared the day before. The people now seem to be a bit suspicious.
There’s tension in the air between Jesus and the people. How will Jesus respond? Check back into the next post to learn his surprising next move.
Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash
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