Jesus is beside the Sea of Galilee and he is surrounded by another crowd. Therefore, Jesus engages in another impromptu evangelistic crusade. At this particular revival service, it is estimated approximately 15,000 people are gathered. Knowing it is the season of Passover and these people are along way from Jerusalem, Jesus determines to host them for dinner.
He asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread so these people may eat?” Jesus knows what he plans to do, but he desires to place the conundrum before his wide-eyed disciples. Philip has nothing for Jesus; he knows not how his master plans on feeding the crowd.
However, amongst the disciples there is one man with a mustard seed of faith. Andrew is skeptical, but he knows odd things happen when Jesus choses to display his miraculous power. So he puts forth one possibility, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Jesus instructs his disciples to have the people sit. Scripture tells us there is “much grass in the place.” It is almost like Jesus is the Great Shepherd leading his sheep to lie down in green pastures. Jesus receives the lunch box from the boy and engages in a prayer of thanksgiving to his Father. Then the multiplication, division, and distribution begins. Jesus does nothing half-way. When he heals, men are completely restored. When he feeds, each man receives as much as they want; they eat their fill. In addition, Jesus provides take-home baskets for his hungry disciples.
[Personally, I believe this presents divine approval for eating in abundance. If all-you-can-eat buffets are good enough for Jesus and his disciples, they are good enough for me. However, this is food for another blog post. Now, back to the story.]
Needless to say, following this miracle, the crowd is further infatuated with Jesus. They proclaim aloud, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” They are beginning to believe he is the promised Messiah. In their opinion, it is time to promote Jesus as Israel’s king and start the revolution. However, Jesus knows it is not time for his stage of exaltation; there is still more humiliation to come. Jesus puts his disciples in a boat and sends them sailing; he then takes a hike up a nearby mountain for some quiet time with his Heavenly Father.
By the next day, Jesus and his disciples are found reunited on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ men have sailed across the sea. The Messiah has taken a leisurely walk upon the water. But on the other side of the Sea, what do they find? Jesus and his men have been followed by the energetic and enthusiastic crowd.
Most traveling evangelists are flattered by throngs of people. Most speak endearingly to those who have travelled some distance to be in their presence. This crowd is full of people who have “worked” to put themselves before his royal court. They have “worked” to proclaim and put forth Jesus as king. They have “worked” to experience more miracles. They have “worked” to receive more benefits from God’s prophet.
However, Jesus admonishes his groupies:
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. (John 6:26-27)
They respond to Jesus:
What must we do, to be doing the works of God? (John 6:28)
Jesus answers them:
This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent … Whoever comes to me shall not hunger … Whoever believes in me shall never thirst … Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life … Whoever believes has eternal life …. (John 6:29-40)
In this pericope, two misunderstandings are targeted by Jesus. They are two misunderstandings held by people interested in Jesus today:
Interested Christ-followers “focus” on the wrong things.
Jesus is not impressed by religious crowds who see him as their earthly meal ticket. In this account, these friends have travelled some distance and expended great energy to get more of the “food that perishes.” Jesus has no desire to be seen as their genie in the bottle. He is not a traveling evangelist interested in putting on a spectacular show and filling men’s stomachs or wallets. Friends, let us not misunderstand the ministry focus of Jesus. He is not the Savior presented by those in the Prosperity Gospel camp. He is not the Lord presented by the “Name It and Claim It” folk. Oh, Jesus is not disinterested in men’s physical provision. He cares and he provides, and quite often he does so in abundance. However, this is not his primary passion and purpose. Disciples of Jesus Christ, our Lord would have us focus on the spiritual provision that comes from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let us pant for Jesus. Let us follow him. Let us put ourselves before him. Let us prioritize his spiritual blessing over any and every physical blessing. This is Jesus’ focus. It ought to be our focus as well.
Interested Christ-followers “work” for God in the wrong way.
Jesus is not impressed by religious crowds who confuse faith and faithfulness. The crowd desires to learn “what they must do.” The crowd wants to know what “works” must be accomplished. They want to know what acts of faithfulness must be done in order to experience more of God’s fantastic show and favor. Jesus is interested in obedience; he is interested in proper worship. He would have his friends walk in holiness before the Heavenly Father. However, Jesus has no interest in presenting a work-wage system to his crowd. He has no interest in sending these people farther down the road of the Pharisees and Scribes. According to Jesus, the “work” of God is not “work.” Instead, the “work” of God is “faith.” Christians, let us not misunderstand our first response to Jesus. In order to be reconciled to God, he will not have us go to work. He does that for us. Instead, in order for us to be found just, righteous, and blameless, he would have us believe. Jesus wishes for us to trust him and receive his benefits by faith. Sure, good works will follow. Absolutely, we will find ourselves more and more interested in worshiping God faithfully. Law keeping becomes beautiful for us. However, Christ’s blessings and spiritual provision comes only by trusting, resting, and believing, in him. According to Jesus teaching, the “work” expected by God is not “work.” According to Jesus teaching, the “work” expected by God is “faith.”