John 6:22-40 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 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. 27 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.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 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. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 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. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 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. 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.”
I wonder what the most challenging passage in the Bible is for you? For many it is one of the verses that deal with God’s relationship to suffering or His choice of certain people to be saved. For others it’s one of the passages that speak to the terrors of hell or the wrath of God.
The first passage I remember being really stumped by is Mark 7:24-28. In it, a Gentile woman (I didn’t know what that meant) “came to Jesus and fell down at his feet”…and “begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” I simply had no categories for Jesus’ reply. “He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ 28 But she answered him, ‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.'” And somehow that convinced Jesus to heal her daughter.
Regardless of what comes to mind when you consider this question, the fact is that there are passages in the Bible that are hard to understand. Even Peter admits that when it comes to Paul’s writing, declaring, “some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).
Well, most serious lists of the top five toughest passages in the Bible will probably include John 6:53-54, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” In fact, it is so difficult that, as we’ll see in a couple weeks, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'” Therefore, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”
What in the world was Jesus talking about?! We won’t get to that clause until next week, but knowing that’s coming is necessary if we are going to really make sense of this passage. 22-58 is one big unit and should be covered together. Because there’s so much in it, though, we’ll need to split it up across a couple of weeks. By the time we get to the end of the passage (next week), I hope to help you make sense of it. More than that, even, I hope to help you see that it is really, really good news. Between the two sermons we’ll see (this week) many of those who were miraculously fed by Jesus enthusiastically seeking Jesus, gladly finding Jesus, and then (next week, largely because of the passage I just read) angrily rejecting Jesus.
There are two main points of this difficult passage. The first is that Jesus will be accepted on His terms—all of His terms and only His terms—or none at all. And the second, is that accepting Jesus on His terms—no matter how strange or severe they seem—is the one and only path to eternal life. The main takeaways for us, then, are to find Jesus’ terms and eagerly accept them entirely! Let’s pray that it would be so.
SEEKING JESUS (22-24)
The relationship between Jesus and the Jewish leaders was strained, but consistent. He continually called them out for their hypocrisy and they continually accused Him of various kinds of blasphemy. Steady tension. The relationship between Jesus and the masses, though, was a bit more complicated. In ways and for reasons that are often unclear, the crowds seemed to seamlessly move back and forth between adoration and abhorrence; between praise and persecution. One minute they loved Jesus and the next minute they despised Him. Even in this passage, the crowds would seek Jesus at significant expense one day and then reject Him entirely 24 hours later.
Having just been miraculously fed by Jesus, the people became so enthralled with Jesus that they tried to make Him king (6:15). And although Jesus slipped away before they could do so, the crowd was not yet done with Him. They were still impressed enough by Him that they were determined to track Him down. That’s where v.22 picks up.
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
There is about to be a subtle fulfillment of prophecy here. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told His hearers, “Everyone…who seeks [Me] finds [Me]” (Matthew 7:8). In one sense, that’s awesome. Seek Jesus, people of Grace, and you will find Him. Discouraged moms, seek Jesus and you will find Him. Bored kids, seek Jesus and you will find Him. Abdicating husbands, broken sinners, lonely singles, fearful seniors, uncertain seekers, and angry skeptics, seek Jesus and you will find Him. He wants to be found by you. He will be found by you. And as we see in our passage, hungry, curious crowds, seek Jesus and you will find Him. Indeed, as He promised, the crowd that sought Him, found Him, even as will you and I, if we will truly seek Him.
But in finding Jesus, the crowd helps us to learn another lesson still. The real blessing is not in finding Jesus, but in wanting Jesus once you’ve found Him; or in wanting the Jesus you find. Impressed with what they’d seen and heard, the crowd sought Jesus across a day and a lake. But the irony is that once they found Him, they would quickly rejected Him because He wasn’t what they were really looking for. They had created an idea of Jesus that they liked from a combination of the Scriptures and their own selfish desires, but the real Jesus was different. He didn’t come for the reasons they’d set their hearts on and He didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.
We’ll come back to this, and really press in on it next week, but for now, Grace, be careful, then, to seek Jesus for who He really is and what He really offers (which is by far greater), not who you have made Him to be.
FINDING JESUS (25-40)
What, then, was it that the crowds found when they found Jesus? When the crowd finally came to Jesus, He made four main pronouncements that began to turn them away from Him. Jesus commanded them to seek true satisfaction (1) from Him, (2) through Him, (3), and in Him, and He told them that (4) doing so is a gift from God.
Seek True Satisfaction from Me (25-27)
Fresh off of being miraculously fed by Jesus, an unsuccessful attempt to make Him king, and a fairly decent night-time boat ride, the crowd who sought Jesus finally came to Him and began questioning Him. Look at v.25.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
That’s kind of a strange question, since they were with Jesus the night before. Nevertheless, the highly-excited and motivated crowd made their way up to Jesus, asked Him a question, and most likely expected Jesus to be impressed by the fact that they were impressed by Him. They were used to people longing to be popular and to receive the kind of attention they were giving Jesus. They were used to dealing with leaders who could be controlled by their flattery and adulation; by the whims of the masses.
On the contrary, however, Jesus uniquely and completely lived for the pleasure of His Father. In addition, Jesus saw through their unbelieving belief. He knew they were not there for the right reasons and so He began to dissect their false belief. He began to help them to see the true state of their hearts. In simplest terms, Jesus began by telling them both why they were (wrongly) there and why they should have been there.
If questioned, I wonder how a spokesperson from the crowd would have answered the question: Why did you come? What do you want from Jesus? In other words, I wonder how closely the reason the crowds believed themselves to be there matched up with the actual reason they were there. I wonder largely because you and I find ourselves in this position all the time. We often have far more confidence in our own understanding of our hearts and minds—of our thoughts and motives—than we should. Recognizing this, the apostle Paul said, (1 Corinthians 4:4) “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” Let us learn from this, Grace. Let’s be humble, read God’s Word, pray often, and ask others to help us see ourselves rightly.
Regardless of what they believed about themselves, they were actually there, Jesus said, simply because He had filled their bellies. “26 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.’“
This is a subtle, double condemnation. It would have been insufficient for the crowd to simply follow Jesus because of His miraculous signs. Jesus was more than a sign-worker, but at least in acknowledging that, the crowd would be closer to Jesus’ true nature. But Jesus accused the crowd of being even more base still. Their appetite was entirely physical. They were satisfied by mere physical food—fish and bread. Again, then, the crowd had followed Jesus—wrongly—simply because they ate their fill of physical food. And worse still, as we saw at the end of last week, they were content with a king of a merely physical kingdom as well.
Rather than that, the crowds should have followed Jesus because true nourishment, true satisfaction comes from Him alone (not the things—the fish and bread, or physical victory—He could give them). Instead of seeking short-term belly-food, and worldly victory, then, they were meant to seek everlasting soul-food and a heavenly king/dom.
27 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.’”
Grace, many, many things promise true satisfaction. It’s hard to drive down the road, listen to the radio or a podcast, pull up a website, or watch any kind of media without encountering some advertisement promising to fulfill your longings (often longings you didn’t even realize you had until you saw the ad). It’s probably hard for most of us to understand what it was like for many in Jesus’ day to not be certain of food or water on a regular basis. The promise of food and water that never ran out (which we seem to have), would have been understandably appealing. Again, however, Jesus was offering something more; much, much more.
Jesus offered food that would never get stale or moldy and that would never run out. He was offering to give them, as confirmed by the Father’s “seal”, food that “endures to eternal life.” He alone could give that food, and He was offering it to them. True satisfaction would come only from Jesus. Do you want to be truly, fully, and eternally satisfied? Jesus, and only Jesus, can give that to you. It comes from Him alone.
This was a mild rebuke of their desires, but it was the beginning, as I mentioned, of Jesus’ dissection of the hearts and motives of the crowds that would soon turn them away almost entirely.
Seek True Satisfaction through Me (28-29)
Even if they were still confused, the crowds seemed interested. Jesus’ offer of imperishable, enduring food was genuinely appealing. And Jesus’ command to “work for” it seemed appropriate. Therefore, they asked, “28’What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
The crowds had worked significantly to make their way to Jesus the day before, to seek Him (possibly through the night), to acquire passage on numerous boats to cross the Sea of Galilee (to where they only assumed Jesus had gone), and then to finally track Him down when they made shore. And all of that work, as we just saw, for merely physical things. Jesus had just corrected that faulty goal. Here He would confront their faulty understanding of the work necessary to achieve the right goal.
29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
I have often wondered why working in our own strength to please God is so often our natural impulse. Why do we almost always assume that we need to work for God’s blessing? Whatever the reason Jesus left no doubt as to the misguided nature of this impulse. As He’d already done on numerous occasions, Jesus clarified for His hearers that salvation and satisfaction belongs to those who believe in Jesus, not those who work hard enough for God.
God saves and satisfies sinners only through the “work” of believing in Jesus. This too, as we’re about to see, was not what the crowd had come to get from Jesus. They came to Him asking what they needed to do to honor God, and Jesus turned it around from their works to their trust in His. And the result of Jesus being increasingly clear on who He was and what He offered was a growing wedge between expectation and reality, and consequently between the crowd’s former approval and increasing disproval.
Seek True Satisfaction in Me (30-35)
The third aspect of Jesus’ teaching that continued to unsettle the crowd away concerned further clarification of what God really wanted from His people. If they were to accept Jesus’ teaching that honoring God was not about what they needed to do, but who Jesus was and what He would do, they were going to need some proof. Therefore, they asked, “30Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?
What sign do you do?! What work do you perform?! How is that even a question?! There were there because Jesus had miraculously fed them and 19,000 of their closest friends less than 24 hours earlier. It sounds like a strange question at first (and it really is), but their follow-up question (and Jesus’ reply to it) helps us make better sense of their mindset.
“31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
It seems that they had made a connection between the food Jesus had given them and the manna God had given their ancestors. The idea is that they were wondering if Jesus was greater than Moses, since His claims certainly were. Moses gave the Israelites food to eat in supernatural ways, but he didn’t make the claims about himself or his food that Jesus did. It’s as if they were saying to Jesus, “That was great, Jesus, but we’ve seen this kind of thing before. You’re going to have to do better than that if you want us to believe the claims you’re making.”
Jesus’ reply suggests that He took their statement to mean something like that. And sure enough, Jesus didn’t back down, for He was/is greater than Moses.
32 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. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The Jews of Jesus’ day consistently revered Moses to the point that he seemed to functionally overshadow God for them. Jesus corrected this error in explaining that the manna they ate was not from Moses from God. More fundamentally and more spectacularly, though, Jesus corrected an even greater error. Jesus, not Moses, manna, or fishes and loaves, is the true bread from God; the source of all true nourishment! True salvation and satisfaction are not only from Him and through Him, they are IN Him. They ARE Him! What an awesome claim. What an awesome reality.
Grace, let’s be a people who cry out continually and together for God to help us stop looking elsewhere for the things that are found only in Jesus. How much time, energy, money, and mental bandwidth to we waste day after day looking in the wrong places for the wrong things, when the right things are all found in Jesus alone?! (Romans 7:24-25) Who will deliver [us] from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Predictably, however, the crowd still didn’t get it. In language strikingly similar to the woman at the well, “34 They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.'” Just as the woman couldn’t imagine anything more than some special kind of physical water, these people couldn’t imagine anything more than some special kind of physical bread. If our own hearts weren’t so fickle, it’d be staggering how secular the very people of God had become.
Leaving no doubt, and casting aside any remaining subtlety, “35 Jesus said to them [plainly], ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'” As we’ve seen over and over, Jesus declared Himself to be the true sustenance, salvation, and satisfaction of every soul. This means that it is never physical food that truly satisfies your belly, it is Jesus doing so through the food. And more importantly, it means that it is never a person or experience or purchase that satisfies your soul. At best, those things merely point to the soul-satisfaction found only in Jesus.
Grace, it’s important for us to see that more than simply addressing the question of His inquisitors and correcting their errors, Jesus was revealing His truest nature. This is the first of seven “I am” statements made by Jesus in John’s Gospel.
- “I am the bread of life” (6:35).
- “I am the light of the world” (8:12).
- “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7).
- “I am the good shepherd” (10:11).
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25).
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6).
- “I am the true vine” (15:1).
Perhaps most significantly of all, in John 8:58 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
It is in this Jesus that all our souls’ desire are satisfied and all are sins are forgiven.
Seeking and Finding Satisfaction from, through, and in Me is a Gift from God (36-40)
In light of all we’ve seen and heard from Jesus, in light of all the ways He taught and corrected and taught and corrected, and in light of the several signs and wonders, we have to come back to the question of how those who walked among Him, the very children of the Promise, could miss all of this so thoroughly. Or, conversely, we’re right to wonder why some—like the disciples—really did believe.
In the final passage for this morning (36-40), and in conclusion, Jesus offered another piece to that puzzle. The gist of His answer is that seeking and finding satisfaction from, through, and in Him is a gift from God.
36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 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. 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.”
Jesus will become even clearer in v.44 (“no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”), but the underpinning of that claim is found in the verses we just read (36-40). In them Jesus reiterated the problem; namely that even though the crowds saw and heard supernatural things from Him, they did not believe. But as I said, in them Jesus also started to unpack the reason: all, but only, those given to Jesus by the Father will come to Jesus. All but only those given to Jesus by the Father will understand His teaching, appreciate His miracles, believe in His name, and follow His commands…forever. For none given to Jesus by the Father will miss Jesus or forsake Jesus. None will be lost. All will be raised. And all according to the sovereign, gracious will of God.
As I mentioned last week. There is mystery here, but there is also clarity.
Jesus taught the crowds that salvation and satisfaction were from Him, through Him, and ultimately in Him alone. Those three things really put a wedge between Him and the worldly kingdom and worldly satisfaction-driven crowds. And yet, the real dividing line is found in the next few verses, in Jesus’ command for all His followers to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
Jesus was different and more than anyone expected. His claims and charges were different and more than anyone expected. As we saw in this passage (and have seen in several prior passages) Jesus will be accepted on His terms—all of His terms and only His terms—or none at all. And we’ve also seen (today and previously) that accepting Jesus on His terms—no matter how strange or severe they seem—is the one and only path to eternal life. The crowds ebbed and flowed in their desire to see and hear these things from Jesus.
Consequently, in a foreshadowing of the shocking change between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the very crowd who’d sought to make Jesus king the day before, would reject Him today. The same enthusiasm that sought Jesus yesterday would turn to distancing themselves from Him today. There were a number of reasons for this (which will become clearer next week), but the heart of them all was that seeking and finding satisfaction from, through, and (ultimately) in Jesus is a gift from God. Let’s ask Him for that gift now—to remain in us and be given through us to all who will receive it. Amen.