John 6:22-29 (HCSB): The next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea knew there had been only one boat. ⌊They also knew⌋ that Jesus had not boarded the boat with His disciples, but that His disciples had gone off alone. Some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord gave thanks. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Don’t work for the food that perishes but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal of approval on Him.” “What can we do to perform the works of God?” they asked. Jesus replied, “This is the work of God—that you believe in the One He has sent.”
To the crowds, Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher (verse 25). The considered the possibility that He was a prophet, maybe even the Prophet that was promised by Moses, because of the miracles He was doing. But their eyes were closed to the deeper truth.
Jesus had fed them, all 5000+ of them, with 5 loaves and 2 small fish. He had taught them amazing things about God’s kingdom. And, in the midst of all of that, a movement had developed among the crowd to seize Him and draft Him as their king. (John 6:15) That was why He had withdrawn from the crowd, and had gone back to Capernaum in a way that the crowds would not anticipate: walking across the water. Surely the time delay and the long trip back to Capernaum would cool heads and help them to be more reasonable.
When they found Jesus in Capernaum, they wanted to know how He had gotten there so quickly with no boat. But Jesus, as usual, cut right to the heart of the issue: the reason that they were trying to find Him.
Jesus’ miracles were a natural magnet. Even though the people had long read about miracles in the Scriptures, there had not been a miracle worker for centuries. And even the Old Testament prophets had not done anything like the miracles that Jesus was doing. But when the people experienced the miracles, the knowledge of God suddenly became secondary, and the results of the miracles became what they chased after.
Some came to Jesus sick, or bringing others who were sick. Their focus was not on seeking God, or seeking the Messiah, but on receiving a healing. Some were blind, and in coming to Jesus, most of these were not seeking a deeper relationship with God, but merely the restoration of their sight.
But Jesus didn’t come to earth to do miracles. He came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10). He came to inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth, and to open a door into that kingdom by laying down His life. The miracles were merely a tool to open people’s eyes to the here and now reality of God’s kingdom; they were not an end in themselves. And when people began to seek the miracles as their primary goal, they needed to be redirected.
Jesus correctly identified that the people were seeking Him not because they were following the signs to the kingdom, but because they were hungry for the miracles themselves, and what they could gain by them. He patiently redirected them away from the bread that they had eaten on the other side of the Sea of Galilee to the identity of the One who had provided it for them. The bread wasn’t the point; the Messiah’s bringing God’s kingdom near was.
When the crowd asked, “What can we do to perform the works of God?” it would have been easy for Jesus to have reeled off a list of “good works” that the people should engage in. But He knew that no amount of good works would restore a person’s relationship with God. Instead, He again focused on the main point of all of this: the key work of God, the work foundational to anything else done in God’s name, is to believe in Jesus Himself, the One who had been sent from God.
Father, even today we can get pulled off track, driven by our needs and our wants to seek You for what You give, rather than to seek You for Who You are and for what You have called us to be. Help us to keep our priorities straight. Help us to first believe wholeheartedly in Jesus and in all that He taught us about You. Help us to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness, with the assurance that You will then provide whatever else You decide we need in the process (cf. Matthew 6:33). Amen.