"For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
One of the things people know about Jesus, if they know anything about him at all, is that he had the reputation of being a miracle worker. The Bible record tells us that on many different occasions Jesus executed miracles. He healed the sick, he cleansed lepers, he cast out evil spirits, and he fed people in an unusual and inexplicable way. He exercised power over the forces of nature controlling the weather with a simple word. He even had the ability to bring back to life a few folk who had actually died.
The gospels describe more than thirty of Jesus’ miracles but it is clear that this number represents just a selection for we read:
Jn.20:30 "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book."
Jn.21:25 "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
Miracles intrigue people and yet not all such interest is helpful and positive. Sometimes our interest can in reality be spiritually dangerous because we put the focus in the wrong place. Miracles cannot of themselves compel faith and a fervent desire to see a miracle may be more evidence of unbelief than it is of true faith.
When we read the Bible with care we find that Jesus did what he did as part of the regular unfolding of his life and ministry. His miracles were part of his compassionate response to the real needs he encountered but his miracles were never mere performances that were put on in order to pander to the whims of an audience or to impress an otherwise unwilling people.
Jesus’ miracles, once they had been accomplished, did however do more than simply meet a present need. The miracles pointed beyond themselves to deeper and more profound truths and for this reason they are also referred to as signs. The extraordinary things Jesus did are not recorded so that we might be encouraged to seek out yet more extraordinary things but they have been recorded so that we might be encouraged to come exercising genuine faith in Jesus Christ this extraordinary person who did them!
What I want you to understand is that it is possible to be interested in miracles in entirely the wrong way. Plenty of folk chased miracles in Jesus’ day but received no encouragement from Jesus as they did so. If you chase miracles for personal comfort and ease instead of earnestly seeking the Miracle Worker himself and allowing him to meet what he considers to be your greatest need then you too will find no encouragement in our Lord.
John.6 refers several times to signs and we will now turn to consider this section in more detail.
Jesus had been healing sick people in a miraculous manner and the crowds that saw what he was doing wanted to stay in his company and so followed him as he crossed over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus had hoped to give his disciples a bit of a rest.
When the crowds arrived Jesus had compassion on them. Some were sick and so he healed them but he also took the opportunity of teaching them for he saw them as "sheep without a shepherd". And so the time passed and it grew late. The people were a distance from home and had nothing to eat – what was to be done?
Jesus’ disciples thought the answer lay in sending the crowds away but Jesus wanted them to eat first and so he called his disciples to him and explained what was to be done. The result was that 5.000 men were fed with the meagre resources of one young lad: 5 barley loaves and two fish. At the end of the meal when everyone had eaten their fill there was more food left over than they had to begin with!
It was one more miracle and at least some of the crowd interpreted the act as a sign. Wasn’t this just the sort of thing that the long-
It was understandable I suppose. After all a King who could meet the material needs of 5.000 just like that was surely a good candidate – who doesn’t want a government that can take such good care of your needs?
But Jesus had come with a bigger agenda and wasn’t going to be forced to follow the plans of anyone other than his Heavenly Father. So he withdrew from the crowds. How foolish such a withdrawal must have appeared to those who didn’t understand what he was about! How foolish such behaviour must appear to folk in our own day who assume that the church only exists to give the people what they want!
Later that evening Jesus crossed back across the lake once more. He had sent his disciples in a boat ahead of him but caught them up as they struggled against the wind on a rough sea as he walked on the waves.
The next day the crowds realised Jesus had gone and they too returned to the other side of the lake. They didn’t go home but looked him out and soon found him and began asking him questions.
This time however it doesn’t seem as though their motivation was all that good. Perhaps the idea of an endless supply of free lunches was just too tempting – a miracle worker like this could make daily life a breeze!
And their thoughts were all focused upon comfortable living in the material world. This mindset is still with us today. You don’t have to be caught up with the health, wealth and prosperity movement to be tempted to imagine that the world offers you everything you need and then to imagine that that is all there is! But
Jesus tackled this attitude head on:
Jn.6:26 ""Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labour 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."
How popular Jesus could have been if only he had been willing to play ball! Would the authorities have turned against him if he had continued to provide a one man NHS? Would they really have wanted to crucify a man who supplied free school meals for the parents as well as for their children? But Jesus knew that there was more to life than this and he loved too much to let men think otherwise!
Calls for Signs
The crowds had already seen signs and signs in abundance. They had seen miracles of healing and they had benefitted from the miraculous provision of food. Such miracles were signs that called for faith to be exercised in the Lord Jesus Christ but when he spoke to them and told them what God expected of them all that suddenly was forgotten.
How do we know that we ought to believe in you? How can we know that this is what God really wants? What are you going to do to convince us?
They had seen the signs but had failed to understand what they meant. They had seen the signs and failed to follow where they directed. Show us something more they clamoured. After all Moses fed our ancestors in the desert what are you going to do for us so that we might believe you?
Are you like that? Perhaps you know a good deal now about who Jesus is and what he has done in the past. But maybe you are thinking that if you are to believe in him that all that is just not enough. Maybe you want him to "perform" just for you and then you’ll believe – or so you say.
Jesus began by correcting some of the false thinking that characterised those who were challenging him. They thought they knew a thing or two but really they got most of it wrong. It hadn’t been Moses who fed their ancestors in the wilderness it had been God who in his mercy had given them food from heaven. And now this same God was once again providing bread from heaven for men and women to eat and this was true bread that would give life to the world!
And the crowd is eager for more – they’re still thinking in terms of barley loaves and fish suppers – they like the idea of this sort of food! And that is how so many like to think of religion – just a way of making life as we know it already a little easier, a little more comfortable. But Jesus has more in mind than that. He’s not interested in tinkering with life as it is but he is interested in bringing in Life with a capital L!
As he continues to explain the crowds interest begins to wane until interest gives way to complaint and grumbling. And lots of people are like that too. They’re happy to think about Jesus as long as he fits in with their preconceived ideas and as long as he shares their values but as soon as he doesn’t then things begin to go wrong!
I hope that isn’t true of you!
Jesus doesn’t respond to the request for a further sign but continues to point to himself and to the unique place he occupies in God’s plan. After speaking about how God provides a bread from heaven that gives life to the world, Jesus quickly went on to identify himself as that bread!
v.35 "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
The people had said they wanted the bread of heaven but they are not so keen when they realise that Jesus spoke about himself. They wanted blessings on their own terms but they didn’t want a personal Lord and Saviour on his.
I wonder what you want.
I’m sure you want blessings in your life but I wonder whether you only want them on your terms; blessings with "no strings attached".
Jesus moved the conversation on from impersonal food that might satisfy temporal and material needs to a personal food that would provide spiritual sustenance that would satisfy the soul for eternity. His miracles were signs that pointed to his ability to meet the deepest of human needs, needs that are far more significant than those passing needs of health and strength and those that could be satisfied with a quick bite to eat. And when those signs are truly recognised we are pointed to a Christ who has a heavenly origin and yet who in humbleness left that domain in order to do poor sinners good!
And as Jesus continued to speak about himself – who he was, why he had come, whose will he had come to accomplish, how he was able to save, to preserve, to grant eternal life and to raise up at the last day – the crowds increasingly find fault! The same crowds that had so recently been expressing an interest in his miracles, who had declared a desire for the blessings he had spoken of, now grumble and complain and ask questions not for further information but as a means of rejecting and pushing him away.
Jesus offered them himself as the bread of heaven, the bread of life. He was and is able to give us life too, a life that he is well able to sustain! He is able to do this because, as that he underlined elsewhere, he is life itself! (Jn.14:6).
And the life he gives is no mere existence it is eternal life which means life that will never end, life that is adapted to the age to come. It is life that means knowing God in a personal way being reconciled to him because our sins have been blotted out by Jesus. It means enjoying a personal living relationship with Jesus too, knowing his love, his support and his ready companionship.
Responses to Jesus
Jesus had sparked the interest of the crowds and he had made clear to them at least some of the blessings he had come to bring into a person’s life. But it was not yet enough. It is not enough for us to express an interest in religious ideas nor is it enough for us to simply express an interest in the promises that Jesus made.
No, we must come to him and believe him. He offers pardon, peace and eternal life but we must trust him for them.
He offers us every incentive to come and to put our trust in him. He assures us that he brings life to the world and that whoever it is who comes trustingly to him will not go on hungering but will be satisfied, our spiritual thirst will be quenched as we believe in him.
v.35 "whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
We needn’t be afraid either that one day he’ll regret his decision and cast us out because he says:
v.37 "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."
Nor need we worry that we won’t be able to keep going to the end, that we’ll fail before we make it. We may well fail but he won’t and has committed himself to securing not just life but eternal life for us and he’ll secure us to the very end:
v.40 "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
My friend, don’t think that you need some personalised sign or private miracle what you need is to allow the signs already given lead you to put your faith and trust in the Saviour. He will not let you down. He has given his life so that people like you and me can have spiritual life and spiritual satisfaction now and for all eternity. He offers himself to us graciously – will you feed on him and will you do so today?
May God be gracious to us.