Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bread of Life

          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.

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Mystified

          The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone.  Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.  Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
John 6:22-27 (NIV)

I guess you could excuse the people for being a little bit mystified the morning after the feeding of the 5000.  They had distinctly seen Jesus’ disciples get into the only boat in sight without Him and head across the Sea of Galilee.  And, just as distinctly, they had seen Jesus head up the hill just as night was falling, for what they assumed was some time alone to pray.

But at first light the next morning, there was no sign of Jesus anywhere!  They apparently searched the whole area, probably being driven to look all the more intently because it was breakfast time, and they had no more food with them than they had had at dinner time the day before.  It would be really convenient if they could find Jesus and have Him whip up another meal for them out of thin air!

But no matter how hard they looked, they couldn’t find Him.  Of course, the last thing that any of them would have imagined was that Jesus had simply marched straight across the water to catch up to His disciples.  But it was no more likely to them that He had decided to set off on foot around the lake – a trek of several miles in the dark!  So they eventually came to the conclusion that He had somehow gotten a boat to take Him across to Capernaum, His home base, without their noticing.

Just then, as luck would have it, several boats from Tiberias showed up, and as many of the people who could fit into the boats crammed into them to see if they could chase Him down.

They finally did find Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum (verse 59), teaching there as He often did.  They were still mystified and, as usual, about the wrong thing:  “When did you get here?”  “We didn’t see you leave – how did you beat us back here to Capernaum?”

Jesus’ answer hit the nail right on the head:  “You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”  In other words, the people only cared that Jesus had multiplied the loaves and fishes because it happened to meet a need that they had at the time; they didn’t receive it as a sign from God that pointed to Jesus’ actual identity as the Son of God in the flesh.  It was the same reason that they had wanted Him to be their king the day before:  They wanted to be free of the Romans and free from Herod, and they figured that with Jesus as their king, they would always have a ready supply of bread and never have to worry about famines ever again.

But Jesus isn’t interested in people who want to use Him to meet their own needs.  All of the needs that He did meet while on earth were not simply for the comfort and blessing of the people He healed, or who He raised from the dead; they were all signs that were designed to turn the hearts of the people to the God who Had sent Him as His emissary, so that they could enter the kingdom of heaven through Him.

We have the same problem today:  People still come to Jesus for their own benefit.  And it’s not actually their fault – we actually sell Jesus to them like that.  It’s almost like an 1800’s snake oil salesman:  “Is your marriage in trouble?  You need Jesus!  Just accept Jesus, and He’ll put your marriage back together.  Are your finances out of control?  Is debt eating you up?  You need Jesus!  Just accept Jesus, and He’ll make your finances work out.  Are your kids out of control?  You need Jesus!  Just accept Jesus, and He’ll make your kids behave better.  (And, even if they don’t, He’ll make it so that it doesn’t bother you as much!)”

The problem with that is that Jesus didn’t come to fix our marriages, or our finances, or our kids.  He came because without Him we were all going to end up spending eternity in hell.  He didn’t come to make us comfortable, but to make us into new creations so that we could become powerful witnesses of His love and grace to a sin-torn world.  Sure, if you receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior, let Him change your heart, and follow His commands, a lot of things in your life will probably get better, but that is just a side effect of YOUR experiencing a major change in your life, your heart, and your priorities.

Jesus did His best to get these people to stop looking at the material world so hard, and to focus instead on what God wanted them to do.  To stop focusing on the blessings that they might be able to receive from God (like the bread that they had eaten across the lake), but to focus instead on the bread that they could only get from God, the real spiritual food that is the natural results of doing exactly what God wants them to do:  producing the fruit of the kingdom.  Just like Jesus had told His disciples at the Samaritan well:  “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”  He then went on to explain, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.  Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:32-35 NIV)

In the end, I think that it’s safe to say that, if you are following Jesus simply for what you can get from Him, you will probably spend a lot of your time mystified, because a lot of the time you won’t be able to find Him.  He isn’t going to be hanging around you waiting for your command like a genie in a bottle.  But if you will sign on to work with Jesus, to let Him call the shots in your life, to mess with your schedules and routines and agendas, you will find that Jesus actually comes to you in the most unlikely places, even walking across the water, if that’s what it takes.  And when you are together, working in partnership with Him to produce the fruit of the kingdom, you will end up in a lot of unlikely places, hang out with a lot of unlikely people, and experience God’s provision and His sustenance in ways you never dreamed!

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Mistaken Identities

          After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.  A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.  When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified.  But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”  Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
John 6:14-21 (NIV)

It is always interesting to me how perfectly good people, when looking at things using purely human logic, can be precisely wrong in how they analyze a person or situation.  And even followers of Jesus are not immune to this kind of misanalysis due to invalid assumptions or inaccurate worldviews.

Take, for example, the huge group of people who received the bread and fish from Jesus at the feeding of the 5000.  They understood that they had just experienced a HUGE miracle:  Jesus multiplying 5 loaves of bread and two small fish so that, not only did everyone there have enough to eat, but there were even 12 baskets full of leftovers for His disciples.  Nothing of this magnitude had been heard of since the manna in the wilderness.  It was no wonder that the people could see in Jesus and in His actions reflections of the great Prophet that was supposed to come to herald the coming of the Messiah.

Some of the people apparently were having a conference in which they determined that a man that could do this kind of huge miracle could probably throw out Herod and the Romans and take over the government.  He could be an amazing King, and with Him in charge, they would be sure that the supply of food never failed, no matter what!  This went right along with the popular theology that indicated that the Messiah would be a new, ultra-powerful king, who would restore the independence and greatness of Israel, surpassing even that which they had experienced during the time of Solomon.  They apparently decided that, even if this was just the Prophet, He obviously had enough power to pull off the kingship, at least until the real Messiah got there.  And so they decide that they would grab Him, take Him to Jerusalem, and show Him the logic of their plan for Him.

The problem was, they had misjudged both Jesus and His mission.  He was not the Prophet that was to precede the Messiah; He was the Messiah Himself.  And, as the Messiah, His job was not to re-inaugurate the kingdom of Israel, but to inaugurate the kingdom of God as a here-and-now reality.  Jesus was powerful enough to multiply bread and fish, and He was also powerful enough to sidestep their plans for Him, no matter how well-intentioned they might have been.

But Jesus’ disciples didn’t do that much better.  They had witnessed the same miracle, as well as others too numerous to mention, including stilling a storm with a word.  But they still didn’t really understand who Jesus was.  Matthew 14:25-26 tells us that when Jesus came out to the boat, walking on the surface of the sea, as the wind blew and the waves crashed around them, the disciples were terrified because they thought He was a ghost.  They could never entertain the idea that a real human being could walk on top of the water like that!  He must be a spirit of some kind.  But Jesus called out to them and, after they were sure it really was Him, they were willing to take Him into the boat.

You know, I don’t think that even seeing Jesus walk on water convinced them that Jesus was in fact the Messiah.  They already knew He could do amazing things, and I have a feeling that, at this point in their relationship with Jesus, they just figured that this was one more amazing thing that He could do.  Despite the fact that shortly after this Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, I don’t think that His followers really understood who He was or what He had come for until that Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead and brought the life-giving gospel to life in the hearts and minds of His disciples.

When we have a flawed idea of who and what Jesus is, His words and His actions startle and amaze us.  We try to use Him and His power to our advantage, only to be disappointed, or even disillusioned, when it doesn’t work out the way that we had planned.  But when we receive Jesus for Who He is, and what He is, and what He came to do, we start to get in line with His agenda, and we get to walk in His presence, and be part of the miraculous work that He is still doing in our world today.

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All the Wrong Stuff; All the Wrong Places

          Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.  Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.  The Jewish Passover Feast was near.
         When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
          Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
          Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”                Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them.  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
          When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
John 6:1-13 (NIV)

Sometimes I can imagine that Jesus was totally exasperated by the people around Him, from the crowds all the way down to His inner circle of disciples.  Jesus was always so focused.  Every moment of every day His total energy was aimed at perfectly accomplishing His Father’s will.  He saw everything correctly.  He understood what the most important thing to be thinking, doing or saying was every moment.  And He knew exactly where to look for everything that He needed at any given moment, no matter what the circumstances.

But He was constantly surrounded by human beings who had exactly the opposite problem.  Their energies, by and large, were directed toward their own agendas.  They saw things in a skewed perspective, colored by their own wants and needs.  More often than not, they had no clue what the most appropriate thing was to think, do, or say in a given situation.  And they had no clue where to look for the answers to puzzling problems, even when the answer was literally standing there, staring them in the face.  The feeding of the 5000 is a perfect case in point.

First, there is the crowd.  John tells us that they were following Jesus because they saw the miraculous signs that He had performed on the sick.  Matthew tells us that these crowds intentionally followed Jesus all the way around the Sea of Galilee, from towns all throughout the area, bringing with them all of their loved ones who were sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)  They weren’t coming to Jesus to worship Him as God, or to listen intently to His teachings; they had come with a much more worldly agenda:  they just wanted Him to heal their sick.

As the day wore on, the people began to get hungry.  They apparently hadn’t expected to come this far or to stay this long.  Jesus understood the problem and, as a test, asked His disciples how they planned to provide food for this huge crowd.  John tells us that He did this as a test, since He already knew exactly what He was going to do.

But His disciples were looking at all the wrong stuff, and they were looking in all the wrong places, for the solutions.  Philip looked at the resources that they had available, a small money bag, and despaired that the few coins in it was only a very small drop in a very large bucket:  “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Andrew looked around and found a young boy with five small barley loaves, and two small fish, about enough to feed two people if they weren’t terribly hungry, and asked, “but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus shifted the whole direction of events by shifting the direction of His focus.  His disciples had looked around them for the solution to the problem, and had come up totally dry.  Jesus looked around just long enough to accurately assess the situation, but then He looked UP to receive the solution.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke include the detail that Jesus, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them.  Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. (Luke 9:16 NIV)  Jesus was looking in the right place (up!), and so He could clearly see the right action to take.  In looking up, He saw the crowds clearly, and realized exactly what it was that they truly needed (not just what they wanted).  In looking up, He clearly saw the inadequate resources that the people currently had to meet the needs, and knew that, with God’s touch, they would be more than enough.  And in looking up, He saw the blessing that God was prepared to pour out on the people, and gave thanks for it.  (He also saw that God’s blessing of superabundance was precious, and that none of it should be wasted!)

When we are facing challenges, it is very easy to get caught in the same world-based search for solutions that the disciples had.  But Jesus has given us the right direction for the kingdom way of solving problems:  Look up!

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A Solid Testimony

“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.  There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.
                “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.  Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved.  John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
                “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
                “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.  How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
                “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
John 5:31-47 (NIV)

The Jews were persecuting Jesus because, in their opinion, He had broken the law by healing the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath day.  The Ten Commandments, given by Moses on Mt. Sinai, outlawed doing work on the Sabbath, but the Jewish teachers had surrounded this simple requirement with literally hundreds and thousands of auxiliary rules, outlining exactly what was and what was not covered by that law.  For example, they determined that walking more than the totally arbitrary distance of 2/5 of mile (each way) would be considered work, so they had people carefully measure any distance they had to walk on the Sabbath.  And healing was definitely considered work (even though divine healing was never forbidden by God, no matter what the day).  And so they considered Jesus a law breaker of the worst sort:  someone who not only broke the Sabbath regulations, but who also encouraged others to do so as well.

Jesus claimed that He operated under a higher authority than these rules established, not by God, but by generations of Rabbis down through the centuries (Cf., Luke 6:5).  But they wouldn’t accept His authority based on His own word.  Actually, this is entirely reasonable.  Anyone could claim that they had been sent by God – in fact, they still do today, and we consider people naïve who simply buy that person’s claim without some pretty convincing proof (especially if that person’s teachings go against conventional wisdom!).

Jesus understood that His testimony about Himself is not legally valid.  But that’s okay, because He had an abundance of additional testimony that they Pharisees were very well aware of:

  • First, the testimony of John the Baptizer.  When the priests and Levites were sent to find out who John was, he clearly testified that he was not the Messiah, or the Prophet, or Elijah.  Instead he testified boldly about the one who was to follow him, who WAS in fact the long-expected Messiah, for Whom he had come to prepare the way.  And the very next day, he specifically identified Jesus as He passed by as the Messiah.  (John 1:19-34)
  • Next was the work that Jesus had been sent to do, the miracles and healings, which were very well known by those who were questioning Him.  His healings were famous all over the country, and had quickly persuaded one of their number, Nicodemus, that Jesus had come directly from God, because “no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2)  By the way, it’s more than just a little ironic that the very healing for which He was being persecuted, was itself a sign to these leaders that He actually was from God.  Nobody else in all history had ever been able to instantly heal an invalid who had been that way for 38 years!  In addition to His healings, His teachings were also renowned, with His words having such a powerful ring of truth that all who heard Him were convinced that He was from God.
  • Finally, God Himself testified to Jesus’ identity and authority through the words of Scripture.  It is estimated that there are more than 400 direct prophecies about the Messiah that Jesus directly fulfilled.  There are many more that are less clear, but that also seem to point directly to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  And the teachers of the Law knew these “Messianic Scriptures” backward and forwards; they were waiting for the Messiah, and wanted to be able to recognize Him when He arrived.  The sad fact is that, even though Jesus was in the process of fulfilling prophecy after prophecy, directly in accordance with the Scriptures, those who knew them best were unwilling to receive Him, because He didn’t match the template that they had built up through their traditions.  They had built a picture of the Messiah based on their own desires and ideas instead of just receiving what God had written.  And, since they wouldn’t even accept the Scriptures about the Messiah that Jesus was fulfilling to the letter, there was no chance that they were going to accept Jesus Himself.

Jesus was accused by these leaders of breaking one of the Ten Commandments.  But, in the process of making these accusations, His accusers were actually breaking way more than that.  Jesus’ seeming disregard for their traditions and beliefs were actually turning their hearts to hatred of Him, and to plotting His murder (Commandment 6, Exodus 20:13; cf., Matthew 5:21–22)   And this hatred was going to eventually lead them to jealousy of Jesus’ popularity (Commandment 10, Exodus 20:17; cf., Mark 15:10), and giving false testimony against Jesus (Commandment 9, Exodus 20:16; cf., Matthew 26:59-60).  But their hatred of Jesus and all that He stood for blinded them to their own sinful hearts and actions.

Today there are still those who will not receive Jesus for Who He is; who accuse Jesus of being a mere sinful man, just like any other.  A good man, or a great teacher, but still sinful, still fallible, still simply human in every way.  They will not accept the clear testimony of Scripture, so they end up groping in the dark after a definition of Jesus that somehow satisfies their own traditions and beliefs.  And in the process, they end up losing their souls in a deep morass of sin, denying the only one who can draw them out, clean them up, and present them pure and bright and holy before the God of the universe.

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