Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who 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.”
“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
John 6:28-34 (NIV)
As Jesus continues to speak to the crowd at the synagogue at Capernaum, the crowd to whom He had fed the miraculously multiplied loaves and fish the day before, the conversation seemed to be taking a hopeful turn. Jesus had just told them all, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27a NIV) And their response was, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Oh, how a shepherd’s heart rejoices to hear a question like that from the members of the flock!
But any joy that Jesus may have felt was to be short-lived. The people weren’t really interested in fully devoting themselves to Jesus; they were still trying to figure out what they had to do in order to keep getting fed free bread and fish!
Jesus laid out very clearly the answer to their question: “The work of God is this to believe in the One He has sent.” In other words, the people didn’t have to do some amazing “work” or keep a long list of rules in order to win God’s approval; all of the heavy lifting was already done. They simply had to accept the amazing work that God was doing right in their midst, His coming to them in the flesh in order to heal them, and free them, and provide for them, and ultimately, to die for them. And they could do that by believing in and receiving Jesus for who He really was.
But the people were still focused on the wrong thing. The clamored for some sort of miraculous sign to prove that Jesus really was someone unique. They pointed out that producing bread wasn’t that big a miracle, since Moses had provided bread for forty years for the Israelites in the desert! Jesus had fed 5000, but He hadn’t fed 2 million for 40 years. So the challenge was laid down: Top that! We need more if we’re going to believe in you!
Jesus brought the conversation right back to the basics of their own faith history. It was not actually Moses who had given the Israelites bread from heaven – it was God Himself who provided the manna each morning for all those years. Moses wasn’t even a middle-man in the process – He was just as dependent on the manna as the rest of them. But Jesus was a different thing altogether. He didn’t just provide bread to the masses; He is Himself spiritual bread that provides spiritual life to all who will receive Him. One greater than Moses really was standing in their presence (cf., Hebrews 3:3).
But the people still didn’t get it. If there was bread that was even greater than manna, they wanted it! “From now on give us this bread.”” Not the bread that left them hungry in just a few hours, but the bread of eternal life. Just like the woman at the well who wanted Jesus to give her the water of life so that she wouldn’t have to keep coming back and drawing water from the well (John 4:15), these people were still interested primarily in what Jesus could do to meet their physical needs, and in the process they looked right past the glorious miracle of the incarnation!
Jesus began to lay the foundation for revealing Himself more fully: “I am the bread of life,” the first of the famous IAM statements in John’s gospel, and one that He repeats with variations four times in the remainder of this chapter. Jesus didn’t come simply to nourish the bodies of the people, He came to feed their souls. He didn’t come to help their physical bodies live longer, but to make their souls live forever in God’s presence.
Today there are still a lot of people who challenge God to perform a miracle for them in exchange for believing in Him. For some it is part of a desperate bargain, a last ditch effort, trying anything to help their life to be better, or to save the life of a loved one. For others, it is almost a dare, challenging God to show Himself by performing a miracle. At other times, behind the request is a sincere desire to know the God that they sense really is out there, if only they could see Him. But the simple fact is, any time we lay down a condition to God for our belief in Him, we are missing the point: God has already done the greatest miracle in the history of the universe; in fact, even greater than the universe itself. The maker of the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; the One who created mankind from the dust of the earth and breathed into his lungs the breath of life so that he became a living, eternal being; the One who has lived in unapproachable glory for all eternity; has lowered Himself, humbled Himself, shrunk Himself down to our size, and entered the physical universe that He created – not in order to stun us with His glory, but to lay down His life so that we could live. The Almighty God put on skin and bones, inhabited a body that could suffer, and bleed, and die, so that He could pour out all of His blood to pay the death penalty for our rebellion against Him.
Jesus’ statement, “You have seen me and still you do not believe,” is sadly true even in our own generation. Even many who know about Jesus, many who have read of Him, or seen television programs or movies about Him, still don’t believe. Their heels are dug in hard, and their hearts have been petrified by doubt and rebellion, so that no light can get into them. It’s just got to break God’s heart.