When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “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 work 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.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, 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 from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 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. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 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.”
— John 6:25-40
The passage you just read in the gospel of John comes immediately after Jesus has just finished feeding the 5,000 (most scholars believe it was actually more like 12,000), and walking on water. Those were two signs, and this is the sermon attached to those signs. People are following Jesus in droves after these two signs, and even continue to ask him to do more. They are interested in what he can do for them, but aren’t all that interested in Jesus himself. (If you don’t believe me, keep reading until the end of John 6 and you’ll see how many of them are still there after Jesus is done preaching.)
Jesus’ accusation in verse 26 is “You’re not here because you love me; you’re here because I fed your belly.” I’ve been wrestling with this for a few months now in my own thoughts and prayer life. Am I interested in Jesus or the stuff that Jesus can do for me? On the one hand, the stuff Jesus can do for me is remarkable and highly desired: salvation, a renewed inner self, sanctification. But why am I interested in those things? Is it so that I can look more spiritual? If that’s the case, I start looking less like a disciple of Christ and more like a moralistic rule follower and box checker, akin to a Pharisee. And I think a lot of us are like this. We say, “I go to church. I’ve memorized parts of the Bible. My kids are in these programs. I have all of these things that I am doing!” This is what Matt Chandler says about what he calls “frantic religious exercise”:
If that stuff terminates on itself and doesn’t lead to a love for Jesus and a passion for who Christ is, all it does is create arrogance. All it does is create judgmental, really terrible people who Jesus has a lot of harsh things to say about. The answer to the question “Am I good?” isn’t “Yeah, because I did this checklist.” You’re trying to check a grade card that God doesn’t grade by. That’s not how God grades.
What ends up happening is we can create our own little grade card. We can start to feel better about ourselves. We’re like, “God, I made all A’s,” and God is like, “On what test? I’m trying to …bless you with real life, and you’re trying to score A’s still. No, I’m you’re A. You’re summa cum laude because of me, not because of you. I’ve provided for you.
— Matt Chandler, from his sermon, That Which Satisfies
So going to church, reading my Bible and enrolling my kids in VBS are all good and right, but if my motivations are wrong and it doesn’t lead to a love of Jesus and who he is, then it’s bankrupt. The gospel is not about what I have done or am doing, but what Christ has done for me. You want to do the works of God? Then look back again at John 6:28–29. The work of God is that you believe in the one whom he has sent. That’s it. That’s the whole statement from Jesus in this text about how to do the work of God. But what about evangelism? Loving others? Living a holy life? Where do you think all of that comes from? Your effort or the abiding presence of Jesus?
So why else might I only be interested in the things Jesus offers and not Jesus himself? Maybe it’s because I have some false belief that the point of the gospel is that my felt needs are satisfied and that my external circumstances are changed so that I can walk around in a faux hyper-reality where there is no sorrow, confusion, loss or doubt. Jesus does promise the end of these things on the other side of glory, but nowhere in Scripture does Jesus say, “Come, follow me, and your life will be easy.” That’s what these first-century Jews were expecting out of the coming Messiah. They believed that he would conquer the Romans and give them back their land. What he ended up doing is even better. He conquered death and he gave us his life and righteousness. Instead of taking us out of our circumstances, he enters into them with us and meets us in our mess. This is where Jesus does his most profound work in our hearts—through our angst and our doubts and our struggles. We try foolishly to hide these dark places in our hearts from Jesus when he already knows about them, which just serves to rob us of the reconciling, restoring, redeeming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
To land this plane, I’ll restate what David said on Sunday. Don’t miss Jesus. His authority is going to rub up against us and challenge some strongly held beliefs we may have on how life is to be lived. Some people are going to choose their own way and what they want over what Christ has commanded. May we be an open-handed people set on allowing the authority of Christ to infiltrate us, change us, sanctify us, minister to us, and ultimately lead us to the fullness of life that is found in him and him alone.