Life of Christ 76
Following the feeding of the five thousand Jesus goes up into the mountains to pray and the Apostles get back into their boat and head for Capernaum. The crowd that walked overland, having been joined by others from Capernaum in the meanwhile who came by boat, spent the night in the wilds of Bethsaida. When Jesus failed to materialize the next morning they pile themselves into those boats and sail back to Capernaum. Jesus and the Apostles are already there, having returned in the night through the storm, and when some in the returning crowd find Him in the synagogue that day a very interesting conversation takes place (John 6.25-59).
Jesus, who had just rejected their offer to make Him a king, explains to them that it was because they did so only for physical reasons. In other words, they only wanted Him as their king because He could manufacture food at will. 'Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled' (John 6.26). Consequently, He urges them to turn from the physical to the spiritual for all along that had been the battle ground about the kingdom. 'Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed' (John 6.27).
It is absolutely critical to understand this point when studying this story for otherwise it becomes confusing indeed. The crowd is fixated on the physical, 'bread'. He tries repeatedly to turn them to the spiritual, 'bread of life'. To do this, He points them toward salvation by grace through faith emphasizing the spiritual kingdom that comes by belief. 'This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent' (John 6.29).
In turn, the crowd that was so disappointed in His decision to reject the crown yesterday demands from Him today a new miracle. 'What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?' (John 6.30). This is mindboggling to me. They still had miraculously produced crumbs in their beard from yesterday.
But that's not all. Not only do they insist on a new miracle, but they insist on a particular one. They want Him to produce, not just ordinary barley loaves, but manna such as Moses did (John 6.31). In other words, they say, 'If you are really sent from Heaven then bring us some of Heaven's food.'
Jesus, who was certainly able to produce manna if He wanted to, yet again sought to turn them from their pre-occupation with the physical to the spiritual. 'The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world' (John 6.33). Their spiritual need, eternal life through faith in Himself, was more important than their physical needs.
Unfortunately, this response only makes the crowd more restive. They reject His claim to having come from Heaven by mentioning His earthly parents (John 6.41-42). Again, Jesus tries to break through their fixation on the earthly and physical and temporal by pointing them to the spiritual eternal life available to them only through Himself. 'I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world' (John 6.48-51).
He has, in essence, just told them that He will sacrifice Himself for their sake, but with their focus still stubbornly on the visual and physical they totally misunderstand. 'The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day' (John 6.52-54). He keeps saying to them, 'It's Me.' They keep refusing to grasp that faith in Him is the point. It wasn't yesterday's barley loaves or today's manna that was the point. He Himself, and their belief in Him was the point. 'This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever' (John 6.58).
Sadly, their ultimate inability and refusal to believe on Him, combined with His refusal to accept the crown and make manna, alongside His wording of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, caused many to simply give up on Him altogether, even some of those who previously had claimed to believe (John 6.66).
In a sense, then, this is the high water mark of His acceptance, albeit of the completely misunderstood kind, by the Jewish people. He would never again kindle such popular enthusiasm. Edersheim says regarding this moment:
By some miracle more notable even than the giving of the Manna in the wilderness, enthusiasm has been raised to the highest pitch, and thousands were determined to give up their pilgrimage to the Passover, and then and there proclaim the Galilean Teacher Israel's King. If He were the Messiah, such was His rightful title. Why then did He so strenuously and effectually resist it? In ignorance of His real views concerning the Kingship, they would naturally conclude that it must have been from fear, from misgiving, from want of belief in Himself. At any rate, He could not be the Messiah, Who could not be Israel's King. Enthusiasm of this kind, once repressed, could never be kindled again. Henceforth there was continuous misunderstanding, doubt, and defection among former adherents, growing into opposition and hatred unto death.
It is helpful to see the impact this has on the arc of Christ's life and ministry, but I'm not interested in simply informing your intellectual grasp of Jesus. All along in this series I have striven to find scriptural application that applies to you and me today. In this story the great lesson I see is this: we are to be less interested in what He does for us than we are in Who He is.
Let us never, like the prosperity gospel crowd, be guilty of following for the what. But beyond their awful example, there is still a more normalized segment of Christianity that only follows Him so long as He makes their marriage, their kids, and their life better. Beloved, God doesn't want chased down for what He can do. He wants believed in for Who He is. If you follow Him only so long as He pours out your version of blessing you are no better than that crowd of 5000 men who wanted Him to be their king. And, sooner or later, like them, you too will go away.
Follow Him for Himself. Love Him for Himself. Serve Him for Himself. Trust Him for Himself. Praise Him for Himself. It is about Him, not about what He can do for you.
It isn't about the manna. It is about the Bread of Life.
If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 44, 'I Am the Bread of Life'.