Some have tried to explain away the miracle of feeding thousands of people with one boy’s lunch, by saying that when the gathered groups of people watched Jesus breaking that small, humble meal into pieces, they were all inspired to bring out their own food to share.
That sounds pretty plausible, does it not?
The “miracle” would have been the warming of all those thousands of people’s hearts toward each other. It turns Jesus’ symbolic sign of bread given by God into an object lesson on sharing and generosity.
But is that what really happened?
If it were, then this next verse would make no sense at all.
Therefore, the people having perceived [Jesus] created-and-produced a sign, they were declaring, “He is truly the prophet who is to come into the world.”
Therefore, Jesus, knowing they intended to come and seize him in order that they could make him king, departed again into the mountain, himself alone.John 6:14
The people who were there saw this meal as miraculous as the manna in the desert. They recognized Jesus was the very one Moses had prophesied. But instead of hanging onto Jesus’ teaching, which he had been giving them all day, they wanted to hang onto Jesus’ miraculous way of feeding them. They were looking for a new Moses-like leader to free them from Roman rule. They were looking for a new David-like king to re-establish Israel as a political and economic superpower, as it had been in the says of Solomon.
So they had a kind of belief in Jesus, but it was in the wrong things.
Biblical belief has four basic components:
- Content: Belief is always going to be in something. There is a set of data to consider. Right now, during this pandemic, you can see how beliefs are formed, challenged, and even changed as new data is introduced.
Belief in biblical terms considers the data provided about God, and God’s intent to restore the cosmos and everything in it, God’s intent to save people from the consequences of our own wrong doing and wrong thinking.
Because belief affects our real lives, getting the content right is crucial. Is this the right medicine for my illness? What do I believe about the medicine, about my illness, about the doctor who is diagnosing and prescribing?
No matter how sincere a belief is, if it is founded in a false set of facts—or more pointedly, a false understanding of the facts—that belief is not going to save.
In biblical terms, only a faith based on God’s revealed truth is authentic saving faith. The crowd believed that if they could force Jesus to be their king, then he would have to feed them, and lead them in throwing off Roman rule, making Israel a great nation again.
They had placed their faith in the signs they had seen of Jesus healing, releasing from demonic bondage, and feeding. But they had falsely determined the signs were the main event.
They placed their faith in the miracles rather than in Jesus.
That is what they wanted to have, a steady stream of physical healings and miraculous meals.
But what Jesus intended to teach them about was spiritual, something unseen.
For though biblical faith is based on what is physically unseen, it is not blind.
Blind faith is believing something without any evidence or reason.
The kind of faith the Bible talks about is a “knowing” faith, based on
- Solid evidence provided through Scripture, and in Jesus’ day, through his teaching.
- The revelation of God through nature.
- God’s interaction in our lives, God’s powerful response to prayer, God’s miraculous provision and intervention, God’s spiritual guidance, wisdom and discernment, God’s every day presence.
- Reason, seeing events in their proper perspective, and understanding them
You and I can “see” it with spiritual illumination given by the Holy Spirit.
All of these elements were present throughout the day Jesus spent with this crowd. Yet sadly, though Jesus was teaching them about himself as the bread of life, the crowd believed only in the bread they could see and eat.
- Consent: With any belief, once we are convinced, we welcome the belief, we invest in it, it becomes more and more a part of who we are, and how we live. In biblical terms, the heart warms in a personal, loving response to God Who is a person and Who is the first to love. This warmth begins in saving faith and grows into obedient faith.
Unfortunately, the crowd’s response to Jesus was not love for their Savior, but desire for a king who would feed them.
- Commitment: Conviction becomes steady determination. In biblical terms, this commitment is not to a set of doctrines, or a catechism, or a formula or method. It is not a commitment to live a certain way, or by certain disciplines. It is not even a commitment to eschew the old life and cleave to the new. All these things may play a part, but they are not the focus of a Christian’s commitment.
In biblical terms, commitment means investing heart and soul, mind and strength, in Jesus.
We have a hard enough time investing even half that in our relationships and projects! We like to keep something of ourselves back, retain some control, keep a backdoor exit ready, just in case.
This is what the crowd tried to do with Jesus.
They wanted to control his power, in a sense, by harnessing Jesus with the crown. Once he was their king, they would be his official responsibility, and he would have to feed them, take care of them, make things right for them.
So often, that is the attraction of many people to Christianity even today. “When I become a Christian,
- God will fix my problems.”
- God will bless me with all the things I have always hoped for.”
- I will never be lonely again, or suffer anymore.”
- God will want me to be happy, and to enjoy life, so God will make arrangements for me.”
When do you and I say, “Oh, God is so good”?
When things happen the way we like.
This is often the way Jesus is marketed in our culture.
Look at many Christian books today—How to Have a Happy Life, a Happy Marriage, a Good Career, Good Children, How to Have a Great Personality, How to Enjoy Your Blessings, Be All You Can Be. These are not bad things, but they are also not what Jesus is about.
Jesus is about entering into the powerful life, love, peace, and joy of eternal relationship with God.
In the other gospels we find out Jesus actually had to force the disciples to get into their boat and start heading to the other side of the lake again. Their unwillingness may have come from their excitement, with the crowd, that Jesus was finally going to come into his inheritance of the throne. As seasoned sailors, they may also have recognized the signs of a storm brewing offshore.
But for whatever reason, they were reluctant to go, and leave Jesus there, though they eventually complied.
It is significant Jesus went to his Father. He was physically exhausted and hungry. He had been teaching and healing without a break, and had just finished feeding thousands of people. He’d had no time to grieve the death of John the Baptist and little time to fellowship with his disciples. He had spent the day he was supposed to rest and rejuvenate, teaching and training instead. He had sent his closest friends to head into a storm rather than risk something even worse, by being swept up into the wrong-headed ideas of the crowd.
Jesus might even have been struggling with the temptation of giving in to the crowd’s enthusiasm to be their king, to bypass the cross, as Satan had tempted him in the desert.
At this low point, emotionally and physically, Jesus went into prayer.
The crowd thought Jesus would be their ticket to health, prosperity and power for their country. What might you and I be trying to “make” God do for us right now, by insisting God solve a problem a certain way? How do you and I respond to the Lord when things are not going our way? When God has asked sacrifices of us on top of sacrifices?
Even as Jesus spent time alone with the Father, he was watching his disciples and interceding for them . . .
[Fourth component of faith tomorrow.]
[Jesus | The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages.org]