Well let me invite you to turn in your bulletins to the passage that we’re going to pay attention to this morning, and it’s from the gospel of John; reading chapter 6 and verses 14 through 35. John chapter 6, verse 14 through 35.
As you’re turning there, Lillian Guild tells a story of a time when her and her husband were traveling down the highway and they passed this Cadillac that was standing at the side of the road with the hood up and the driver of the Cadillac standing outside looking at his vehicle rather perplexed. So they thought they would stop off and find out if there was any way in which they could assist. And immediately as they stopped off and pulled to the side, and somewhat sheepishly the driver of the Cadillac explained that he left home low on fuel and he was in such a rush for the appointment that he needed to get to that he neglected to fill his gas tank, and hence, he found himself where he is. Well it just happened by chance that the Guilds had a spare gallon of fuel in their trunk and so they poured that into the Cadillac and told the driver that this will only be sufficient to get him to the gas station which was about three or four miles down the road, and so he needs to make a stop off in order to continue with his journey. And he thanked them profusely and he sped off.
Well as you guessed it, twelve miles down the road the Guilds are traveling down the highway and again they see the Cadillac at the side of the road with the hood up, and again, the driver standing outside looking at his car as if there was something really wrong. And so they thought, “Well, let’s stop off and find out if there is something else that has gone wrong.” And what they found out is that because he was so late for his business meeting he decided on a whim and a hope that the one gallon of fuel that he had in his gas tank would be sufficient to get him to the meeting that was another ten miles down the road.
Now we hear stories like this and in some ways it’s hard for us to believe it. Isn’t it? How can someone be that illogical? And yet for many of us, I wonder if this is sometimes the way we approach our Christian lives. We’re so busy pressing on to the next item on the agenda, the next meeting, the next item to do, the next ministry, that we neglect to pause to refuel each and every new day. We live in a society which is frenetic. It’s “Go, go, go!” and sometimes we can be so busy going that we’ve forgotten that we’re actually running on empty. And I think it’s passages such as the one before us this morning that is a reminder to us as believers that we need daily manna. We need daily manna. Christ alone is sufficient and satisfies for all the requirements that will sustain us with each new day. We need to take time to read and to meditate, asking the Holy Spirit to take the Word and to plant it deep in our hearts, to sustain and to change us, so that we may be the light and the beacon of hope for others that we encounter during the course of the day. We also need time just to pray and to commune, to have intimate communion with God, as we pour out and bear our souls.
And we don’t do it out of obligation. We do it out of sheer delight because we have come to know that He is life. And that’s part of what we’re going to see in the passage that is before us this morning. So let’s read the gospel of John, chapter 6, and we’ll read from verses 14 and then we’ll pray. Now remember, Jesus has just fed the 5,000 on the five loaves and the two fish and we pick up the text in verse 14:
“When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
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. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 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.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 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. 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.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’’ 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. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
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.’”
The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of our God stands forever. Amen. Let’s pray, shall we.
Our Father, we thank You so much for Your Word. We thank You that it is not just the avenue that opens up and reveals who You are and the path to salvation, but it is sustenance, true sustenance to our souls with each new day. Father, take Your Word and apply it deeply to each one physically present and those who are streaming via livestream. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Now prior to verse 14 in our passage, Jesus has performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Interestingly, it’s the only miracle of Jesus Christ that is recorded for us in all four of the gospels. And I think it’s recorded in all four of the gospels because it’s meant to highlight that this season in the life and ministry of Jesus is a pivotal and it’s a central part of a change that is taking place. In fact, it’s widely recognized that John 6 is a transitional chapter in the life and in the ministry of Christ Jesus Himself. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus is at the height of His popularity. He is surrounded by huge crowds. And by the close of the same chapter, words in verses that we did not read this morning, but at the close of that chapter, Jesus has been abandoned. He sits alone with His twelve original disciples. And even at that point He says to them and He asks them in verse 67, “Do you want to go away as well?” And it’s Peter who turns around and declares the words that become somewhat of a rallying cry for believers throughout the ages where he says to Jesus, he responds, he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that You are the holy one of God.” Astonishing words that he was able to make that proclamation of what God had done in terms of his heart by grace.
So, the question that we need to be asking – “What exactly did Jesus do? What exactly did Jesus say? What offense drove the thousands upon thousands to abandon, to reject Him, leaving Him with His original disciples alone?” Now before we get into the details, I think it’s a very real temptation for each of us to assume that we would never have done what they did. But I think we need to take time and just reflect and read and read and read this passage to truly grasp that when we understand what Jesus is calling His disciples to, the question that needs to actually be asked is, “How many of us would still be around? What would we have done? Would we have left with the crowds, following with the way of the cultural majority? What exactly does Jesus mean when He says, ‘Why are you pursuing bread that does not last? Have your eyes and your heart on the bread that leads to life.’” That’s some of the things that we’re going to just consider this morning.
So I want us to have a look at it in three parts. The first one is to notice that there are things that result in Jesus withdrawing His presence. There are things that result in Jesus withdrawing His presence. Secondly, I want us to consider that there are other things that cause Jesus to restore His mighty presence during the various seasons of life. And then thirdly, I want us to consider, and then finally echoing the prophet Isaiah that we read as the Call to Worship this morning, I want us to notice how He calls us to stop pursuing perishing bread. Stop pursuing perishing bread, but to come and eat of the true bread that lasts for eternity, bringing true joy and true meaning for life. So that’s more or less where we’re going to go this morning.
Jesus Withdraws His Presence
So first, let us consider Jesus withdraws His presence. We see this in verses 14 and 15 of the text that is before us. When you read Matthew and Mark’s account of the storm narrative, they explicitly detail how Jesus sent His disciples into the boat and sent them out into the sea to go to the other side. He then dismissed the crowd and He went up the mountain to go and spend some time in prayer. We’re not given all those details in the Johannine account, but those you can go and look up in the Mark and the Matthew account.
So the question that we need to ask is, “Why is Jesus sending His disciples on, chasing the crowd away, and withdrawing to Himself? What’s going on here? Why did He do this?” Well very simply, the people wanted – and we see this in verses 14 and 15 – “When the people saw the sign that he had done” – the feedings of the 5,000 – “they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” The crowds understood. They understood that Jesus was the prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18, that there would come one who is like Moses. Remember, the people in the crowd, they were well-versed, at least in the Pentateuch. There were some religious leaders that would have been included in the crowd, so they were familiar with what the Old Testament had to say that they were particularly looking for the one who was yet to come. I mean Moses, on a number of occasions, said that they were constantly to be looking out for the one that is the final word. In other words, the final prophet. And in Jesus, they recognized exactly what was spoken of.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, of course, we come across passages that highlight that there would be one who would come to be the Messiah – to rule and to reign and to restore David’s throne. So the old covenant, the Old Testament, speaks about a prophet and a king who will come. In fact, Jesus Himself, in speaking to the Samaritan woman just in John chapter 4, two chapters earlier, He had actually mentioned exactly that – that He is the Messiah; He is the Son of the living God.
So why does He reject the position of prophet and king that they want to give Him? You see, the people wanted Jesus on their own terms. That’s essentially what’s happening here. He was to be their religious leader and their political spokesperson, but in a way that required no sacrifice. In other words, they wanted the prophet, they wanted the king, but not the priest and the suffering servant. They wanted God’s leader their way, not the Lamb. They wanted order and structure according to this world’s pattern, not to include the sacrifice, and of course the sacrifice and the cost that was required of those who would follow the one who was the true prophet, priest and king. In fact, towards the end of the chapter, Jesus actually explains this in a little more detail when He begins the process of helping them understand what the sacrifice and what the cost will look like, and of course what it was going to involve. And it’s those final offensive words that ultimately will drive the crowds away. He says this – “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can have no part of Me.” In other words, “If you reject Me as the priest, God’s means for the king and the prophet and priest to take residence, and if you do not follow in the path of costly sacrificial living, you can have no part of Me. I will not be your prophet. I will not be your king.” And as a result, they’re deeply offended and they want no part.
Now friends, dare I say in some respects not much has changed. If we’re left to ourselves, isn’t this world looking for a Messiah figure of sorts? We’re looking for a king and a prophet – a king who will usher in redemption and peace now, who will lead us into a kingdom, assuring us that if we will just submit then we will have our best bread now. The problem is, is that the bread, as Jesus says, does not last. It will not last. And of course just like the crowds, we too could turn around and say, “Moses gave us bread every single day for years and years and years in the wilderness. Do it again. Not just once. Give us more stuff so that we can believe in You. Feed me. Feed me.” And Jesus says, “You did not understand the sign. That which was done both in the wilderness and even in the feeding of the 5,000 was meant to highlight that this bread satisfies momentarily, but I alone am the true manna from heaven.”
Believer in Jesus, the way of the cross, the proof of a life that is poured out to Christ, is found in following the way of the cross itself. It is through the cross that Jesus rules and reigns in the hearts of His followers. It is through the cross that we recognize the prophetic voice of the Shepherd as the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, opens up the written Word and makes it alive and it becomes the living word and living food to us that changes us and prepares us and gives us a perspective on the world because we belong to a kingdom that is not here. You see, it is through the cross that we enter the narrow way where we love justice and mercy, where our desire is increasingly to walk humbly before our God, to love God and to love neighbor with each new day. The narrow road is that we walk to the beat of a different drum, not simply the latest pied piper. We have our gaze set on the one who is Priest, who is Prophet, who is King, and in Him we find satisfaction. We are satisfied; we are nourished.
But what we see in our passage is that when Jesus encounters people who want Him as King and who want Him as Prophet without the cross He says, “Please just depart from Me. Please just depart until you get an understanding of what I have come to accomplish.” He dismisses the crowd. Previously He looked upon the crowd with compassion and He fed them. But when He realized that all they want is another piece of bread in their stomach to fill them for the moment, He dismisses them and He withdraws.
Jesus Comes to His Own
And that brings me to the second thought that I want us to consider, and that is to notice how Jesus comes to His own. And we see this in verses 16 through 21 of the text. Jesus comes to His own. One of the details that is fascinating as you look at the Johannine storm narrative, is that the disciples do not appear to be afraid of the storm. Yes, the sea is choppy, but they’ve seen this before. Remember that many of them were actually seasoned sailors. Their focus seems to be more on the fact that they are a little bit hurt by the fact that Jesus seems to have abandoned them. And so they’re out in the storm, they’re pulling on the oars and the sails, trying to make it through. But as is recorded for us in the Markan account of the storm at sea, it is Jesus who is up on the mountain who is praying, who is looking out, and He’s watching over His own. He’s watching over His disciples. And it’s He who sees that the swells are increasing and that there’s an increasing danger and He goes out to them. He has compassion on them and He goes out to them. And when they see Him walking on the water, guess what? They’re not terrified of the storm, even though it’s becoming increasingly more dangerous; they’re more terrified that they see Him walking towards them.
Friends, “How real is Jesus Christ to us?” is the question that maybe we need to just ponder and consider. Has Jesus ever frightened you? – and I mean in terms of a fear of the Lord frightening. You know, one commentator that I was reading this past week made a comment. He said, “If we’ve never truly been frightened by Jesus Christ as we read about Him in the gospels, have we truly met Him?” That really stuck with me. Remember, back in Luke chapter 5, when Peter meets Jesus he instinctively falls to his knees saying, “Depart from me, for I am a wicked man.” That’s the narrative. That’s the account of so many of the people of God that we read about in the old covenant. You have Abraham, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and so the list could continue. They’re undone when they are encountered by the living God. Friends when we meet, and we understand who Jesus Chris truly is – God incarnate – we ought to be undone. It ought to undo us, simply because we see the depth of our problem, we see the depth of our depravity, we see our desperate need for peace with God and to have our sins atoned for, and that there is no way that we can provide for that; it is only through the One that has been provided in Jesus Christ.
And yet, notice in the text that He always, always says to those who cry out in fear, “Fear not; it is I. I am here. I love you. I have come to you. I am with you. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” There is grace and there is mercy in each one of those statements. We need this reminder in every season of life as we struggle with our own sin, as we deal with our wandering and wavering heart, but I think especially in seasons like we’ve just faced over the last three months. Who would have thought four or five months ago that this was on the horizon, this storm? And I know that some of you are even sick and tired of hearing some of the phrases I’m going to actually say right now – COVID virus, change and uncertainty all around, peaceful protests that turn to riots, stealing, destruction, Supreme Court decisions that carry and could carry huge implications for various sectors of society. There’s a massive clash of worldviews, in some sense, that’s happened right before our eyes and it’s a storm. The one aspect or the one side of the worldview is there are people who are seeking a king and a prophet but they have rejected the Lamb and the concomitant sacrifice that is required with that. And yet as Christians we have a Priest, we have a King, we have a Prophet. We acknowledge that Lamb who is our Priest and we find that, and we know that He is with us and He is for us. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Him in the midst of all that is happening around.
Brothers and sisters, God ordains all eventualities. That’s one of the great truths in the Reformed tradition – God’s sovereignty. Even the rough seas that we’ve been thrust out into in this moment, it’s not caught Him by surprise. And the mandate of Scripture is simply that we take our concerns, we take our turmoil, we take our grief, we take our brokenness, we take our tears and we sit at the feet of the cross, the feet of Jesus, pouring and lamenting over what we see in this world around and how they are rejecting Jesus Christ, the Lamb, praying that God in His mighty Spirit would pour out and bring an awakening that people would themselves cry out praise to God. That’s the solution. We’re praying for revival in this church. Do you not think that the cost of revival is maybe being brought to the end of oneself in order that God may bring us to the place where we have nowhere else to turn? It’s painful, but it’s an incredible blessing if the result is that people, both His own children at the very moment in time and even those who are not within the body of Christ, if they will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The pain needs to come before an understanding and the fruit of the blessing.
And so in the midst of the storm, His eye is on you, it’s upon you. He comes to us. He hears us. And notice how He speaks peace. It’s interesting in John’s gospel that as soon as He climbs into the boat, even though they were in the middle of the sea a moment earlier, He climbs into the boat and they are already at shore. Isn’t that so true? Have you not experienced that in your own life? In the midst of the storm when you cry out to God for mercy, all of a sudden it’s almost as if the storm has just dissipated and you’ve already arrived. He takes control of it. He takes care of us.
Jesus is the Bread of Life
And so finally, I want us just to think about and notice how Jesus confronts them while revealing Himself. We see that in verses 22 through 35. Notice that as Jesus begins to speak about the bread it’s virtually the same lesson that is being taught as He has with the feeding of the 5,000 and the storm narrative and now in the bread of life discourse. The crowds arrive from the other side and immediately they turn to Jesus and they say, “How did you get here?” You see they had noticed that there was only one boat on the other side and Jesus had told the disciples to get into the boat but He had not gotten in there. He had dismissed them and gone up the mountain. “So how did You get across here?” One commentator said, “Can you imagine if Jesus said, ‘Oh, I just walked across the water.’ What would that have done to their worldview and their understanding of Jesus?”
And it’s interesting because He doesn’t answer the question in the text but He immediately aims for the heart. “You’re only here for more bread; you missed the sign.” Jesus is driving home the fact that it was never really about the bread at all and He’s simply asking them, “Why are you pursuing, why are you so focused and intrigued and enamored by that which is passing away and will never satisfy; it was never meant to satisfy. But rather, labor for the bread that endures to eternal life.” That’s what Isaiah was talking about in our Call to Worship this morning, “Come, eat and drink without money.” It’s the grace of God. It’s the free gift that satisfies and nourishes.
So just very quickly, let us consider what is this bread that perishes. What is this bread that perishes? The bread that perishes is any time we seek satisfaction without desiring and enjoying intimate communion with Almighty God; anytime we seek satisfaction without desiring and enjoying intimate communion with Almighty God. In other words, when we stop short of fellowship to pick up the crumbs of God’s goodness and His kindness. In other words, when we enjoy the blessings of His hands but we neglect to actually enjoy Him. But it could also be that we get to a point in our lives – and we’ve all experienced it in some way or another – where we think that maybe Jesus isn’t enough, so it’s Jesus plus something else. So it’s either a stopping sort or a going beyond Jesus Christ because of the activities of life or whatever it may be, and not stopping to simply sit and to partake.
And so friends, any time that we go beyond or we fall short, we can truly, from the Scriptures, understand that it will not bring the satisfaction that is required to our souls. It is Christ and Christ alone that is designed to do that. Let me give you a couple of examples. It’s the student who is entering into finals week and hasn’t been particularly paying attention to his own quiet time, a reading of Scripture, going to church, but because these are critical exams he decides to hedge his bet so he comes to church that Sunday. It’s the business person who has a critical meeting with a very important client who’s been coming to church regularly but that particular Sunday he or she is not coming to commune and to worship God, but rather, “God, I’m doing my part,” is in the back of the mind – “You need to do Your part this coming week.” You see, it’s all the ways that we seek God’s face not because we want Him or long for intimacy with Him, but because we are after that which He gives.
But friends, our daily bread, all the necessities of life, the pleasures and the luxuries that are from His gracious hand, all of those things are given in order that we may be newly amazed at His kindness and His mercy and His grace and His love towards us so that it would invite us to actually stay and sit at His feet and to enjoy Him all the more. And how quickly we forget that in our surrounding culture. Our culture sets forth, whether materially or ideologically, so many other things that are more intriguing and they will not suffice. I think it was Augustine who said, “God created us for Himself and we are restless until we rest in Him.” We could turn that around – “until we feed upon Him and we are nourished and satisfied in Him.”
So where do I find this rest in a restless world? Where is the food that satisfies and nourishes? Well, it is Jesus Himself who answers us by revealing Himself. He says, “I am the bread of life.” And immediately our minds should be cast back to Exodus chapter 3 where God reveals Himself to Moses. “I AM WHO I AM. I AM THAT I AM.” And in this case, He is revealing an aspect of what it means – the “I AM” statement. “I am the bread of life.” And then He says, “Whoever comes to Me, whoever comes to me shall not hunger.”
Let me conclude with this. One of the true signs, true indications of our being born again, is a deep seated hunger and thirst for intimacy with God. We realize that our life depends upon it – to commune with Him, to feed upon Him. We recognize that He does this in us by placing His Spirit there. He gives us new passions and affections and desires. And apart from that, really, it’s all just religion. It’s just going through the motions if we do not stay with Him and feed on Him. One puritan wrote this. He said, “When friends fail and flesh fails and heart fails and yes, and life fails” – in other words, when you’ve been brought to the end of yourself – he writes this, “Christ will not fail, but will stand by and strengthen you and be a light to you in your darkest hours. A stay to your spirits when they are ready to sink within you.” What an encouragement for a time and a season of life like this, and for each new day.
So the question that needs to be put to each and every one of us is simply this – “How will you respond to all that we’ve read in this passage in John 6? Is Jesus truly enough, both today, tomorrow and every day? Will you follow His call to a sacrificial life, coming to the cross and entering into the narrow way, to love justice and mercy, to walk humbly before God, to love God and to love our neighbor?” The narrow way is a costly way; it’s a sacrificial life. Now there may be some of you here this morning who perhaps, you’re recognizing your need for Christ and your sinfulness for the first time. And the invitation is exactly that. “Come and partake,” Jesus says. There are others here, and I think there’s many of us, who perhaps are wandering, we’re allowing our minds to be perhaps absorbed by the many things, the multitude of things that are happening around us. The Lord Jesus Christ invites us to come and partake. “Come and feed on Me again. Find that in Me you will be nourished and satisfied. You will find peace.”
The beginning of true revival in the church in America, by the way, is recognizing that Christ alone is our hope and stay. As Peter said, “To whom can we go, for You have the words of eternal life.” May that be the truth and the promise that we cling to and that we hold on to, both today, but of course each new day as well. May God bless His Word to each and every one of us, to encourage us in our walk before Him. Let’s pray.
Our Father in heaven, we give You thanks and praise for the wonder of the Gospel, the wonder of how it pierces and penetrates and yet how it also undergirds, encourages, and sustains and nourishes. We thank You, Lord, that the Gospel is about Jesus; it is Jesus Christ. Father, I pray that each and every one of us would be mindful always that it is Christ alone who truly satisfies. Teach us what it means to truly feed upon the manna that is from heaven. And we pray these things and ask these things in Christ’s name, amen.
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