is something strangely modern about the crowd in this passage. It seems that
human nature has not changed; we are still looking for a full belly first, and
then (if we have time and inclination) we might think of things spiritual.
Looking for Miracles
22The next day the crowd that had stayed on
the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and
that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away
alone. 23Then some boats from Tiberias landed near
the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
24Once 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, “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. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for
food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him
God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28Then they asked him, “What must we do to
do the works God requires?”
The World’s Attitude
the Romans were right. It may just be that all we really want are bread and
circuses. Having had the bread, the crowd now looks for the show. In short
terms, the crowd is laying out its terms for belief: “do this, and we will
believe.” Look at our attitude problem:
we decide on what is true and what is not. We do not discover truth; we
decide upon it. We make ourselves the supreme arbiters of truth. If
someone claims to be The Truth, we will tell him just what he has to do to
prove it. Do you see the presumptuousness of this?
particular, being of a “show me” mind, we will prescribe the hoops through
which you must jump, Mr. Truth. So it is that the truth is something
which is under our control. Why must this be so? Because we want to use
the truth (the power of God) for our own purposes. We’re interested in a
partial God with a keen prophetic eye on the stock market.
course, to be fair about it, we shall reply in kind. You be the nice,
partial, unassuming but very helpful god; we shall give you partial
devotion in return. Bread for today, circuses tonight (on our new wide
screen TV) but no reminder that we might be sinners.
Miracles and Magic
and Science are twins,” said C. S. Lewis. It’s true. Both of them are ways to
manipulate the universe around us for our own benefit. Recite the right
incantation at the right time and the crops will grow. Apply the right
fertilizer and insecticide and the crops will grow. The logic is the same:
“if” you do this, “then” thus and such result will occur.
this view, God is a “force,” as portrayed in Star Wars™. By invoking this
force in just the right way, it will assist us in obtaining our heart’s
desire. But what if God is not a force, but a person? What if he is a person,
a being with personality?
crowd here is looking for the God who can be manipulated, the God who will do
as he is told. As we are told here, the crowd follows Jesus not because they
have seen a miracle but because their bellies were filled. We are seeing the
sin of gluttony having its way.
can see this in the sign (miracle) that they ask for. It might seem rather
stupid to ask for something to eat (manna) again today. After all, they’ve
already seen that trick once. But that was yesterday; besides, we haven’t
seen it fall like the manna we read about in the Scriptures. If you’re really
the Holy One, surely you could arrange the trick for us?
The Tyranny of the Belly
sees through them, however. He knows why they are there. They have come for
seconds. Their bellies were full yesterday, but now they are hungry again.
That’s the motive.
you ever heard of a “rice Christian?” The phrase refers to Christians
(particularly in China) who are in the faith because some charitable church in
America thought it best to send rice to their starving brethren. Of course, as
soon as the rice arrived, the number of Christians in town greatly increased.
might think we could not be like that. It is not so. Among our numbers are
those who continue to go to church simply because things are good – they are
going well. At some time in their lives they made the connection between the
bounty God has given them and the church. Therefore – like amateur magicians –
they continue to go the church, thanking God for their blessings. At least
they are grateful, if not faithful.
Bread of Heaven
now explains it to them – in words they don’t understand.
asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the
one he has sent.”
30So they asked him, “What miraculous sign
then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He
gave them bread from heaven to eat.’£”
32Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who
has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true
bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down
from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us
35Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me
will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to
me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do
my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of
all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and
believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last
41At this the Jews began to grumble about him
because he said, “I am the
bread that came down from heaven.”
The Metaphor: Food
appears that God understands that we like to eat. From the earliest times of
the Jewish nation he prescribed dietary laws. In this way he placed their
attention on what they ate – so that they might apply what prevailed in the
physical realm to the spiritual realm. As a result, it is a frequent
metaphor. Here we see it bringing the idea that eating the right food results
in life, just as in the Old Testament eating the wrong food brought uncleanness
and therefore death.
are what you eat,” as the old saying goes. In a spiritual sense, that’s very
true. That which you take into your heart, mind and spirit determines what you
are. This is the peril of pornography, for example. By taking this in you
determine what your view of marriage will be.
we know there is a right food for infants, and right food for adults. Christ
here tells us the truth: He is the right food for adults in the kingdom of
God. Take him into your heart, mind and spirit, and you will grow strong in
the kingdom of God.
What Shall We Do?
now makes one of those amazing statements which eliminate all doubt as to who
he really claims to be. They ask (rather logically), “what should we do?”
Give us directions; how about a plan of action here? His plan is very
simple: believe in the one whom God has sent.
first this appears silly to us. We do not connect “believe” with “action”.
But they were not such fools. In their time, believing meant doing as well.
So we must understand their astonishment. It is not the astonishment of those
who have been told to “do nothing” by the God who is always commanding their
obedience. It is the astonishment of those whose lives have been run by rule
and regulation now hearing that the only rule – is a person standing in front
of them. God in the flesh now calls for their total and complete obedience.
then, about good deeds? Surely God wants us to do such? Of course he does.
They are the natural effect of believing. To believe is the work (and it is
work) which causes good deeds.
Bread of Life
now puts the metaphor before them: He is the bread of life. But this metaphor
he now expands to assure them that it completely encompasses all of their
salvation. This is no ordinary bread!
there anything we need to do? Any great adventure we must complete? No; we
need only to come to Him. That is sufficient. How do we come to Him? In our
time we cannot go geographically – but we can go in belief. If we trust Him
completely, his grace is sufficient for us.
now the sureness of God. All that the Father gives, Jesus will keep – he will
never drive them away. So if you come to Jesus, you know that only one person
can drive you away from him – and that is you, yourself. No one else can pry
an impact this has on the sinner! Are your crimes too horrible to
mention? No matter; the Father draws you on, the Son will keep you forever.
is this so? It is because this is God’s will – and has been so from the
beginning. The lamb is slain from the foundation of the world. What the
Father wills, the Son does.
this is done because of the relationship of God the Father and Jesus, the Holy
One. His purpose in being born was to do his Father’s will – a will that drove
him to Calvary. By that same will, he will lose none of those who come. (What
a blessed assurance!) It is God’s will that anyone who looks to the Son
(Jesus) and believes will be saved.
Yes, the shorthand for the benefits:
you – the real you, not the husk of your body, will be eternal.
you – the real you, clothed in an immortal body, will be raised up from
the grave on the last day by the power of the Holy Spirit.
wonder we call it “amazing grace.”
Words of Life
41At this the Jews began to grumble about
him because he said, “I am the
bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of
Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from
43“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and
I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will
all be taught by God.’£ Everyone who
listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he
has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has
everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may
eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from
heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my
flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among
themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the
flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I
will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is
real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live
because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate
manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59He said this while teaching
in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60On hearing it, many of his disciples said,
“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about
this, Jesus said to them, “Does
this offend you? 62What if you see the Son of Man ascend to
where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for
nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit£ and they are life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning
which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father
has enabled him.”
66From this time many of his disciples
turned back and no longer followed him.
67“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom
shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
70Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one
of you is a devil!” 71(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the
Twelve, was later to betray him.)
The Problem of Predestination
appears to be a contradiction. The Father “draws” us to himself – but we are
to “eat.” How is it then that we say that we obtain grace or reject it of our
own free will? Surely, if God does not draw us, we cannot come.
matter is simpler than it appears. It is also the case that God the Father
wills that all be saved. There are two possibilities here:
hold that all who are to be saved have been predestined to have such – no
matter what they say or do. It is all by the “drawing” of the Father.
ancient scholars looked at it differently – with more humility. Coming to
the Father is so far beyond us that unless He draws us to Himself, not one
of us have the strength to make it.
Chrysostom put it, “the words do not take away our free will, but show we need
see here the source of the sacrifice: God’s will. He wills that not one of us
perish; all who want to come to Jesus will be drawn towards him. By his
divine power we grow closer to God.
The Metaphor Becomes Reality in Communion
fact is apparent here: God chose his words for his Scripture so that the
messages would be clear in any language. The metaphor of food – the body and
blood of Christ – is shown to us on three levels.
the level of physical reality, Jesus became our sacrificial lamb, the
perfect, unblemished sacrifice for the sins of all people. His body, His
blood are our salvation, and can be understood to be so in this quite
literal sense. If he is not sacrificed according to the Law, then there
is no hope of our salvation.
the level of worship and symbolism, we see this in communion. Our Lord
was quite explicit: “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” You are
what you eat, and by taking in his body and blood you grow in Christian
maturity. Is it just a symbol? Is it the essence of Christ? Men may
argue, but one thing is clear: no other meal ever had so much influence
over who you really are.
within our own persons, there is a third level – the level of the spirit.
We know that the spirit gives life; the Spirit gives us the only life
which is eternal. How is this? This is the Holy Spirit, the same who
raised Jesus from the dead – as we take him in, we take in life itself.
The Great Divide
is a hard teaching.” Students sometimes complain to the teacher that the
problems were too hard – it’s the teacher’s fault they are failing. We need to
look at the teaching here, for it forces a division in the ranks – some
leaving, some staying.
A Hard Teaching.
is his teaching hard? Because it requires our total, radical commitment to
Jesus Christ. This is not something which we achieve by our own good deeds,
though those good deeds will flow out of it. (One must not confuse cause with
effect). But do you not see that the very hardness of the teaching, the very
absoluteness of the statement, forces a division? No one is left sitting on
the fence; there is no fence to ride.
The Inevitability of the Divide.
does nothing here to convince those who are leaving. Indeed, he makes his
teaching even more difficult to accept by telling them that the time will come
when those who believe will see him ascend into heaven. Not exactly the kind
of news you want to deliver when you’re trying to hold on to a following!
it is. Some people, despite any and all evidence, will not believe. I did not
say “can not;” I said “will not.” The commitment is too great. Painfully,
they turn back. If they turn back, God will not draw them to himself. There
is no reverse gear in God’s transmission.
To Whom Shall We Go?
it seems, will take only volunteers. God will enable them to come to the
kingdom of heaven, but they must be volunteers. Worse yet, even then there
will be hypocrites and traitors in our midst. So how is it then that the
remaining disciples decide to stay with Jesus?
For those who are victorious over the world, there is no “option B.” Only
Jesus has the words of life; only He knows the way to the Father because He is
the way to the Father. No matter what it costs, no matter how hard the trail,
He is the way, the truth and the life – the only way. God give us strength to
walk in that way; may He draw us on to life eternal.