Note: What follows is Sermon #2 of three messages based on John 6.
This sermon was delivered August 16, 2015 at Nairn Mennonite Church, Nairn, Ontario, Canada. I was the guest preacher on these three occasions. Sermon #1 is entitled “Two Signs”. Sermon #3 is “Living Bread”.
Sermon: Three Questions and One Answer
– John 6:22-40
23 Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens;
24 he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Human beings ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat.
26 He let loose the east wind from the heavens
and by his power made the south wind blow.
27 He rained meat down on them like dust,
birds like sand on the seashore.
28 He made them come down inside their camp,
all around their tents.
29 They ate till they were gorged—
he had given them what they craved.
New International Version (NIV) . Scripture selections from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
We live with three grandchildren, so we get lots of questions, every day. Will you play (baseball/badminton/hockey/trampoline/a table game) with me? Can we have a treat? Are you going to watch me at swimming lessons? Will you read me a story? How old are you? Why do you put brown sugar on your oatmeal? and on it goes.
The Q & A method is a natural way of learning. In Jesus’ day that was also the case. Several centuries earlier, Socrates had made this method of learning famous. When you ask a question, another person gets involved in the learning process. For a teacher to do so, involves his or her audience. Jesus asked questions meant to get people involved with His person and mission: “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say? Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin? If your child asks for bread, will you give him a stone?
Not only did Jesus use this method, but also the crowds and individuals asked Him questions. ‘Where do you get your authority? How can a man be born again? When will the end come and what will be its sign?‘
Our passage for today includes three questions the people asked. The interesting thing is how the Lord answered these questions. I have entitled this message “Three Questions and One Answer”. We will see that in each case, Jesus gave essentially the same answer, leading people to one answer that they needed to consider.
John 6:22-40 (NIV)
22 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. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 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.
The story concerns the follow-up to the feeding of the 5000 and the walking on water. After that miraculous feeding, the Lord sent the disciples away by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He went off by Himself for a while, then walked to them on the water. The next day, the crowd were looking for Him and figured out that He must be on the other side, so took boats to go over there. This leads to
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
‘When did you get here?’ The Lord never answers this question. Some questions are not worth answering. They are misdirected or unimportant. The Lord says that they are looking for Him because He performed a miracle involving food for their bodies. It is a dangerous thing to love the miracle and what it provides so much that you sign up immediately to the cause without understanding that cause. There has to be more to it than that. People for centuries have latched on to miracle workers for food, money, healing, deliverance of some kind, but those miracle workers are often frauds and the miracles dubious.
These folk thought that the important thing was to keep alive, to enjoy good health, economic well-being, and a comfortable lifestyle. That’s what it was about. In an election campaign, that is about as far as a politician can go in making promises. But even a full stomach and comfortable living doesn’t satisfy.
The late Ray Stedman (1917-92), longtime pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA, gave an illustration about this in a 1984 sermon:
One of our pastors told me of a recent Barbara Walters’ television program he watched in which she interviewed three celebrities: Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash, and Walter Cronkite. Johnny Carson, he told me, came across as the typical jaded playboy hedonist. Everything he said telegraphed the fact that he was living for pleasure, but, having tried everything and been everywhere he was fed up with the whole thing.
Walter Cronkite was the suave humanist, the worldly philosopher. Now retired and wealthy, he is enjoying life as best he can. He was looking at life rather philosophically, but all he really was saying was, “That’s the way it is!” Johnny Cash, on the other hand, admitted his background of alcoholism and dope addiction and the fact that he had virtually destroyed a marriage and wrecked his life. But he openly said he had found Jesus. There was peace in his eyes and contentment in his voice. He spoke of a hope for the future which neither of the others had. Johnny Cash made very clear that he had found what Jesus is talking about right here — the bread of life — bread that lasts beyond the mere satisfaction of physical hunger.
People should be looking for spiritual and eternal food. The feeding of the 5000 was a ‘sign’ pointing to the gospel itself, to Jesus Himself, and they were missing that.
It’s not that He has no compassion to hungry people. Quite the contrary – hadn’t He been concerned enough to provide for their supper the day before? Did He not say elsewhere that a cup or water or a piece of bread given to a needy person in His name was as if we give it to Him? Physical bread has its necessary place. But ultimately, everyone needs even more so the spiritual, life-giving bread that comes only through knowing Him. So, His answer is to seek the “food that endures to eternal life” (not physical food which like yesterday’s needs to be repeated with a new supply today), food that only the Son of Man can give – in fact, He not only gives such food; He is the food. The Son of Man is Jesus Christ Himself, the one on whom “God the Father has placed His seal of approval”. You can see that Jesus is pointing people to Himself as what and who they really need. They should be asking about Him and what He offers.
This leads to
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
They ask, “What must we do…?” It’s as if they say, ‘OK, so we are to seek something spiritual. Tell us what we have to do to please God – the work God requires of us’. This question Jesus does answer. It is a better question – but their focus is on what they can do by way of works that God will accept and that is never enough. The only “work” they can do is to believe – and, again, with a focus, “believe in the One He has sent”. Later in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul will teach us that it is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”(Titus 3:5-7) And in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
He is taking them away from a self-reliance, or a reliance on good works, for on our own we can never be righteous enough to live with a holy God. What God requires is faith. Thus, we are called to place our trust in the only One Who can save us – trust, or belief in Jesus and His work for us in taking our sin on Himself on the cross and in rising again.
So, they ask a third question.
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[a]”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, 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. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
a John 6:31 Exodus 16:4; Neh. 9:15; Psalm 78:24,25
‘What sign or proof will You give that will cause us to believe in You? Moses gave our ancestors manna. – and lots of other signs, so, if You are the Prophet whom Moses predicted, give us more signs.’ There is a selfishness involved in this question. Give us something and we’ll believe – couched in terms such as, ‘We need proof’.
Jesus’ answer is two-fold: first, ‘It wasn’t Moses who gave them bread in the form of manna; it was God. and, second, God the Father gives you this other kind of bread I’m talking about, the kind that “gives life”, not just temporary sustenance.’
They express a desire for such bread, and the Lord concludes with a summation of what He has been getting at (vv. 35-40).
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
He states clearly, “I am the Bread of Life.”
“Coming” to Jesus involves seeing Him as present in your life and expecting Him to do something – to act, to comfort, to strengthen.
“Never going hungry” and “never going thirsty” involve expecting He is available, listening to Him, obeying Him.
So, they are to come and believe. These folk had “seen” but not “believed”. They had come to understand some things about Jesus but had not trusted in Him and committed themselves to Him.
He offers lasting satisfaction. But, they were not believing in Him. He goes on to say that they need help; there is a drawing that the Father must do, for left to ourselves, we will always choose a lesser path. But if we accept this ‘drawing’ of God towards Jesus Christ, He will accept us. And, Jesus will make sure that all who agree with God’s Son will enjoy eternal life. Verse 40: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” Jesus not only provides the bread form heaven, He is that bread.
What lessons can we take from this encounter?
- Ask the right questions of God. Seek the right things. In Matthew 6:33 we read, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Asking the right things of God is emphasized elsewhere in the Bible as well as here. Most notably, James writes, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (4:3)
It raises the question of what motives we have in our prayer requests. In prayer, there should be worship, acknowledging God’s greatness and goodness. In prayer there should be humility, dependency expressed. In prayer, we seek specific things, but always in agreement with what God wants – “Your will be done on earth as in heaven” – and for His purposes to be accomplished.
- It is not about how or what but about who. It is not about what we do but about whom we believe – in whom we place our trust. All throughout this passage, the Lord has been requiring that His hearers focus on Him. Q&A #1 -Seek the One on Whom the Father has placed His seal of approval. Q&A #2 -Believe in the One the Father has sent. Q&A #3 -Look to and believe in the Bread of Life.
One answer to the three questions