Is it material gain, financial blessings or perhaps family harmony or happiness? What about a checklist of things to do to so that you feel better about yourself? Or would you seek a miracle from Jesus to really prove his existence?
What if Jesus never gave you any of these things? Would you walk away?
These are probing questions that hit us deeply. In this chapter I asked myself these questions. I also wondered what it would take for me to walk away from Jesus. Would I still follow him if he never gave me anything else besides salvation?
In John Chapter 6 Jesus performs the miracle of feeding thousands of people. Large crowds continue to follow Jesus, but for the wrong reasons. Jesus reveals who he is and what he is about. Many people deserted Jesus that day.
Jesus continues to draw people to him today but many lose interest and stop following when Jesus does not give them exactly what they demand.
So here are the questions that Jesus addresses:
What Do I Want From Jesus?
1. Do I Want Jesus For Material Gain?
Many of the people who followed Jesus at this point were hoping for a political savior. They wanted political solutions, free handouts, and material goodies. For them Jesus was the latest and greatest gravy train. These people had watched Rome have limited success by instituting a sort of welfare program that they called a Bread for Peace. There were many hungry, jobless, homeless people in Rome. So the government tried to avoid riots by buying them off with goodies. The plan backfired, because the demands of the crowd simply grew and grew.
Well, Jesus knew that he faced a similar problem the day after he fed the masses with barley cakes and salt-dried fish. In fact, when the crowd arrived, look at how he greeted them. He said: 26 Jesus replied, “The truth is, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you saw the miraculous sign. John 6:26
On a very minor scale, I can see how Jesus felt. When I have put out a bird feeder, I can look out the window to see a menagerie in the back yard. Birds were all over the ground and the deck: Cardinals, finches, titmice, Chickadees and sparrows. But do they appreciate me? Did they have any sense of loyalty in return for my generosity? When the bird feeder is empty, the birds completely desert me. I know as a parent, I provide and pay thousands of dollars to raise them, but for one of them it never is enough. That hurts. I think Jesus feels the same way.
Missionaries in third-world countries often talk about “Rice Christians.” These are people who will quickly convert to Christianity in exchange for food or some other physical benefit. The problem with Rice Christians is that when goodies are gone, so are they.
American Christians are not so different. Too many people use church for business contacts or community status. Rice Christians can be found all over the world. These people look to God only for what they can get. They are quick to turn their back on God the first time he fails to deliver.
Jesus told the crowd: 27 But you shouldn’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that I, the Son of Man, can give you. For God the Father has sent me for that very purpose.” John 6:27
Those seeking material gain turned away from his message. Others would eventually turn away also such as those wanting a set of rules to follow.
- Do I Want Jesus For Rules Or Religion?
They asked him, “28 They replied, “What does God want us to do?” John 6:28
If these people couldn’t get a free lunch, they at least wanted a list of rules they could hang on to. I never cease to be amazed that religion, by its very nature, draws some people who are actually looking for a dominating, charismatic leader to call the shots and take over their lives. There is a new cult group on every corner these days led by a control freak who turns his followers into some sort of robots.
Throughout Christian history, the church has often fallen into the sin of legalism. The problem is, it’s easier to make rules than to build relationships. Jesus wants to live in the heart of every individual believer. He has sent his Spirit to write His Law on our hearts. He calls every one of us to study His word for ourselves and learn from Him. When we do that, the church enjoys an amazing unity in morals and principles. That’s why you won’t find our congregation publishing a list of Do’s and Don’ts. Instead, we want to teach the scripture and to encourage everyone to seek a personal relationship with the Lord.
But some people simply don’t want a relationship with God. They’d rather find a strong leader and memorize a set of rules. Jesus had no interest in these kind of followers. Jesus came to build relationships, not rules.
When the crowd demanded a list of works, Jesus gave this surprising answer: “”This is what God wants you to do: Believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29
As amazing as it sounds, Jesus wants a genuine love relationship with every one of us. That kind of relationship can’t be bought with goodies, and it can’t be built on rules. The material gain crowd wanted the goodies more than they wanted God. The Rules and Religion crowd wanted the law but not the giver of that law. They rejected Jesus as a replacement for the rule-keeping religion of that day. And one more group walked out on Jesus that day. They were those seeking emotional sensation.
3. Do I Want Jesus For Emotional Sensation?
These people asked Jesus this absurd question: 30 They replied, “You must show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What will you do for us? John 6:30
Think about it. Jesus had just fed over 5,000 people with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. The very next day, they are asking him for a SIGN! Obviously the miracle of feeding the 5,000 gave them enough faith to climb in boats and row all the way across the lake to find Jesus. But yesterday’s miracle was not enough to last until the next morning.
We have plenty of these kind of churchgoers in America today. Some have called these kind of people “pep rally believers.” Keep them “wowed” and you’ll keep them around; bore them and they are gone. These people crave spiritual excitement. They love spectacular entertainment. They want new experiences all they time. They want Jesus to take them from one mountaintop experience to the next with no valleys in between. They want all kinds of rewards but no responsibility.
It reminds me of a quote attributed to Ronald Reagan. When the nation was mourning over his death, the news was been full of stories about his life. One commentator remembered something he said about the fickle public. Ronald Reagan said: A baby is a lot like the American public: Insatiable appetite at one end and total lack of responsibility at the other end.
Churches today are filled with these kind of people. Insatiable appetite for spiritual excitement, but total lack of responsibility toward the Lord Himself. The sad truth is that many believers are very fickle. That’s why so many people hop from church, to church, to church — always looking for the newest style, the latest seminar, the most electrifying concert, and the most exciting presentation. The American church scene is clogged full with “Forty days of this…” fifty day adventure to that… “Seven habits” of successful whatever… “21 irrefutable laws” and on and on…” It never ends. Now, I’m not saying these things are bad. We need to focus on special emphasis now and then, and some of these programs are helpful. But it’s way too easy for church-going crowds to start chasing after the latest fad in the religious world.
Jesus did not come to give us endless spiritual highs. He came to give us a chance to know Him.
The response of the crowd tells us a lot about the difference between what people WANT and what people NEED. So often the very thing people need the most is the last thing they are looking for. In the next post, I’ll cover what we need from Jesus.