Healthcare and welfare top the charts as attention grabbers. This is nothing new; two thousand years ago multitudes followed Jesus over sea and land, they even tried to force Him to be their king. Here’s why: He gave them free food, healed their diseases and gave them hope the day he fed 15,000 to 20,000 people in John 6 (woman and children included).
By chapter’s end, scores of false disciples walk away from Jesus, never to return. He’s left addressing a congregation of only “The Twelve,” wanting to know whether they’d like to go away also.
John 6 is a message of God’s gracious provision of food and medical care, yet ironically, it’s also a classic example of a lack of gratitude from people who only want “a Jesus” who gives them free stuff, minus His call to “believe in Him whom God sent” (John 6:29).
This is a “Thanks but NO Thanks Chapter.”
Jesus continually demonstrates works authenticating His message about belief and repentance. He repeatedly shifts back and forth between their responsibility to come to Him for salvation and of God’s sovereign role of drawing individuals to Him. Some see this discussion as less than a primary issue in the church, but for Jesus’ pretend followers it’s like the final straw that broke the camel’s back and they walk away from Him.
Sadly, believers and professing believers alike abandon their churches in the same way. They either don’t understand what Jesus says in John 6, or they’re offended by His “very harsh words” (John 6:60) so they search for a teacher who’ll explain them away with a “kinder,” “gentler” technique than the one Jesus employs.
Here’s the point of John 6:
Jesus drives their attention to a free relationship with the living God. He states in no uncertain terms that, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent” (John 6:29).
In other words “belief” isn’t a work they can manufacture on their own without God’s divine enablement; eliminating any false notion that people can perform actions worthy of God’s notice sufficient to gain entrance to the eternal city.
Some think church attendance is the universal key to unlock the pearly gates; or that giving to the poor is the determining bullet point highlighted under the “Righteousness” section of their resume. Perhaps it’s “good citizenship” (whatever that means) as a necessary activity for God to fling His kingdom gates wide open.
Jesus is crystal clear that not everyone goes to heaven, indeed, only a select few.
Notice how Jesus interacts with four kinds of people in John 6: regular folks, “The Jews,” false disciples and authentic disciples.
They crisscross sea and land looking for another free meal. When Jesus identifies “The Jews” He’s talking about the ruling party of Israel known as the Sanhedrin filled with Pharisees and Sadducees who eventually crucify Him (Acts 2:22, 36).
Multitudes fed results in a misguided reception
Their perception of Jesus is that He’s as a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:18) who can rule their nation by booting out Roman occupiers. They see Jesus as a commander and chief supplying all their needs at the mere utterance of a word.
The last thing on their minds is a spiritual savior. They want a welfare state complete with a guerrilla warfare commander who’ll defend them against the nations. If Jesus provides food on the battlefield they win the war before a single skirmish. As a supply chain expert I know that armies need effective supply chain partners to get food to the front lines; Jesus can bring in seconds what normally takes months to orchestrate, let alone deliver.
Jesus, knowing the multitude is about to force Him to be their king (Jn 6:15), immediately puts His disciples into a boat while simultaneously sending the crowds away because they refuse His words about repentance and faith. Once everybody is gone Jesus goes to the mountain to pray (Mark 6:44–46).
Like all social gospel activities, the real gospel is never embraced because it’s never heard.
Think about it, what passes for missions and outreach is often an offense to the gospel. We feel better about ourselves when we make someone’s day more comfortable but God is offended if we never couple our so-called “kind deeds” with the real gospel of belief and repentance.
True disciples have the opposite reaction. They hear His Word and act accordingly, just like the men who obediently rowed while Jesus sent the disobedient crowds away.
False disciples appeal to their “magic Jesus” to meet their needs (Jn 6:22–25). Imagine you’re right there with them 2,000 years ago observing those once sick, paralyzed and hungry; “Sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34), the same folks who rejected Jesus’ words ten hours earlier are back for another magic trick—another hand out, but Jesus is nowhere to be found.
False believers, like those in John 2:23–24, don’t assimilate the truth. Jesus tells them to leave in (Mark 6:45) because they ignore His words and now they’re once again ignoring His directions. They rowed their boats for hours to get more free stuff (John 6:26) only to hear Jesus tell them that working for food which perishes is futile while receiving food enduring to eternal life as a gift from Jesus is the precise course of action they must take (John 6:27).
Just like any works based or legalistic religion, those in the crowd are looking for some kind of labor to check off their “To do list” to appease God so that Jesus will serve them up some free breakfast (John 6:28). This is what legalism does to people; it gives them false hope; which is no hope at all.
Pavlov rings a bell and his dog salivates. Pharisees behave properly and God is obligated to give them stuff. The boat people salivate and are willing to perform whatever chore Jesus assigns. Sadly, for them, the only labor required isn’t even theirs to execute; it’s God’s work which is simply this:
“Believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29).
Since the crowd refuses the clarity of Jesus’ words He uses metaphors to grab their attention which ultimately exacerbates their will to walk away from Him.
Since Jesus requires belief the masquerading disciples demand another sign to authentic His words (John 6:30). They keep following Jesus—they continue seeing the signs He performs on the sick and they even observed Him create bread and fish in the palms of the disciple’s hands.
Why do unbelievers demand more signs?
In their sinister way of thinking, Moses fed millions for forty years and, well, Jesus—He only fed 20,000 in one day (John 6:31). They want steady streams of unending groceries and if Jesus can do THAT, maybe—just maybe they’ll believe His words.
Pretenders are no different today. They rub their imaginary magic prayer lamp and out pops their magic Jesus ready to sprinkle pixy dust on all their wildest dreams. “Oh Jesus,” they pray, “Give me a bigger house, a more reliable car, a happy marriage. Make my mind and body feel better and maybe, just maybe I’ll believe your words.”
Jesus corrects their misunderstanding about Moses. He proves that God is the origin of their bread (John 6:32; Ex 14:4; Psalm 105:40) and then He blows them away with a metaphor identifying Himself as “The Bread of Life” which begins Jesus’ discussion about man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty in salvation (John 6:35–66).
Jesus clarifies that people must “come” to Him and “believe” in Him (John 6:35). Both words indicate present, on-going continuous action. Coming to Jesus requires forsaking a life that rejects Him and His words. Coming to Jesus is when an unbeliever places himself under new management. Believing Jesus facts and God trivia is not sufficient for salvation (John 2:23–John 3:3). The unbeliever must surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and serve Him (John 6:40, 8:31; 1 Thes 1:9).
In John 6:37 the crowds are likened to the proverbial camel with too much straw on his back. With each additional word Jesus utters they become more burdened until finally the last word breaks their back.
Jesus shifts from the human responsibility side of salvation to God’s sovereign role in salvation. Again, some think these two truths are secondary issues, but John demonstrates that for these pretend followers it’s like the final straw that broke the camel’s back because this is among the primary reasons the unbelievers walk away from Him.
Jesus is clear that no one comes to Him without the Father first giving them to Him (John 6:39, 44, 65, 10:29).
How on earth do we reconcile man’s responsibility with God’s sovereign role in salvation?
“The Twelve” observe how Jesus discloses God’s will for his listeners (John 6:39). He says all that the Father “has given Me I lose noting.” The original audience hears the words, “has given” which means the Father gave people to Jesus as a past action and that this gifting remains a current reality. As such, Jesus says He won’t lose any of those gifts given to Him by the Father because the Father’s will is that all those observing and believing in Him will have eternal life (John 6:40).
So there it is, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility like railroad tracks running side-by-side void of philosophical arguments about how both can’t be simultaneously true.
The next post observes how the original audience wrestled with these twin truths and the two eternal opposite consequences for believers and unbelievers alike. Just like the overloaded camel, we’ll see how the final blade of grass that does him in is likened to people rejecting Jesus’ words.