John 6:1-15, 32-58
Every election cycle, voters face a choice.
Clinton or Trump? Najib or Mahathir?
Who we choose, depends on what we think the problem is.
Rampant immigration? Stagnant economy? Corrupt leaders?
In every election cycle, voters are essentially looking for a secular Messiah.
Someone to save us from our enemies and provide us for our needs.
So, we are not so different from the crowds in John 6.
In verses 4, John tells us, all this happened near the “Jewish Passover Festival.”
Why this detail? Because John wants us to connect the dots between Jesus’ ministry with that of another national Jewish hero, Moses.
To first century Jews, the Passover is like our Merdeka Day and Prophet Muhammad’s birthday all rolled together in one.
It celebrated the birth of a nation, Israel.
Freedom after 400 years of slavery under Pharaoh’s Egypt.
It was also a time when the God of Abraham, their forefather, revealed himself in a spectacular way through Moses.
Rivers turned to blood. Hailstorms decimating livestock.
Swarms of flies, frogs, and locusts ravaging the land.
This was God’s divine judgment against the wickedness and false gods of Egypt.
Worst, every firstborn in Egypt was doomed to die. (Exod. 11:5)
But for His chosen people, God provided a way of escape.
How? Every Jewish household was to take a lamb. An unblemished lamb.
Kill it. Eat it. And smear its blood over the door frame. Simple, right? Anyone can do it.
How does it work? As Exodus 12:12-14 says:
On that night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt … The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come … a lasting ordinance.
God appointed a substitute for them. A perfect lamb killed in place of a child.
To escape judgment, to enter the Promised Land, trust in God’s substitute lamb.
Fast forward a thousand plus years. Along comes Jesus.
Once again, they’re celebrating Passover. But a lot has happened since.
Yes, Israel became a nation. Then came civil war.
After that, came brutal foreign conquerors. Twice.
A third conqueror, Rome, now ruled Israel.
Jews were again second-class citizens in their own land.
So, again the Jewish people were longing for another Moses.
A hero who will speak to them – like a prophet - from God.
A hero who will fight for them – to free them from oppression.
A hero who will provide for them – like Moses did in the wilderness.
(He fed them for 40 years, every day, with manna from heaven.)
Will Jesus be this hero? A vast crowd came to see. What did they want?
“People followed because they saw the signs he performed by healing the sick.” (6:2)
But not just healings. Like Moses, Jesus fed them too.
Verse 10 says “five thousand men” were fed.
By ancient conventions, only men were counted.
So, the true number was likely at least double or triple that.
So impressed were they (15,000 to 20,000), on the spot, they proposed to make Jesus king! (6:15)
But Jesus wanted no part of this.
That’s why Jesus “withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (6:15)
Why didn’t Jesus want to be king? Wasn’t it his life mission to be their Messiah?
Yes, but not that kind of Saviour.
Not the kind that takes up weapons, forms an army, and starts a war with the Romans.
Yes, Jesus is a new Moses. But not the same. He’s the true and better kind.
That’s what the crowds didn’t understand. That’s what even his own disciples didn’t see.
That’s what they had to learn. To discover what kind of Messiah Jesus truly is.
Let’s go back to the start to verse 5.
Jesus looks at the vast crowd and asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (6:5)
This was a test, says verse 6. What kind of test?
To expose what Philip believes about Jesus.
Who is Jesus? What kind of Messiah is he?
Philip doesn’t do well. Why? He doesn’t see Jesus at all.
All Philip sees are the vast crowd and his own inadequacies.
“Look at this sea of people. No way we can afford that much bread.”
“Even with a whole year’s salary, everyone will hardly get a bite.”
But all this time, Jesus, the Bread of Life, had been standing right in front of him.
Then, along comes Andrew. He finds a kid with a packed lunch. (6:9)
Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish. But how will they go among so many?
Andrew did a little better than Philip. He didn’t just moan about how hard it is.He looked for someone with some bread. But admits it’s hardly enough.
But what about the boy? He’s not stupid.
He probably knows, like Andrew, his lunch is not enough.
But what does he do? He has a few options.
A. Eat it all himself.
B. Share with a friend.
C. Give it all to Jesus.
He chose C. Why? We’re not told.
But we can guess the mental calculation that took place.
Look at crowd. Look at lunch. Eat himself.
To choose C, a new variable enters the equation.
Look at crowd. Look at lunch. Look to Jesus.
Trust Jesus, the Bread of Life, to do something with his meagre bread.
That’s what Philip and Andrew missed. That’s what everyone else missed.
Again-and-again, Jesus tells them, “I am the bread of life.” It’ll be more than enough.
Jesus says it plainly at first in verse 32-33.
Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you bread … but my Father … For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
But they didn’t get it. So, Jesus repeats it several more times.
Verse 35: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”
Verse 38: “For I have come down from heaven.”
Verse 48: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna … they died.”
Verse 51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Verse 55: “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me.”
Verse 58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven.”
But like Philip, the crowds didn’t see it. How so?
What they said exposed the spiritual blindness of their hearts.
Jesus’ responses were essentially answers to three sets of questions.
First question. Verse 28 and verses 30-31.
What must we do to do the works God requires?
What sign will you give that we may see and believe?
Then they began to grumble. (6:41) Second question. Verse 42.
Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven?”
Then they argued sharply among themselves. (6:52) Third question. Verse 52.
How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
It started calmly enough. But became more heated as Jesus spoke.
Why? They didn’t like the answers Jesus gave.
They thought they could do something to deserve this bread.
They thought they already knew who this Jesus was.
They thought there’s a better way to get this bread.
Behind the first question (6:28) is the assumption that they can do something to deserve this bread. “What must we do?”
They don’t doubt their own ability to get their hands on this bread from God.
In fact, what they doubted was whether Jesus can truly provide it for them!
“What sign will you give?” (6:30-31)
Why this confidence? Verse 31, they said proudly: “Our ancestors ate the manna.”
Of course, they have a right to God’s life-giving bread.
They had the right ethnic and religious credentials.
If not them, who else can get this life-giving bread?
To this, Jesus essentially replies, there’s nothing you can do.
All you can do is “believe the one he has sent.” (6:29)
That one, the one from heaven, that’s the source of true life.
It’s not what you do to get this bread. It’s what Jesus did – to give you his bread.
Your ancestors didn’t get that bread because of their connection to Moses.
They got manna from heaven because of Moses’ connection with God. (6:32)
In other words, it’s not your skin colour or religious performance that gets you life.
So, like Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the emphasis here is again on our inability to enter heaven and gain eternal life by our own efforts.
Just as a person has no control over how they’re born the first time, so we have no control over how we’re born again spiritually the second time.
God has to do it. He has to start it. Even our faith in Jesus is a gift from God!
This radically separates Christianity from all other religions in the world. Why?
All religion says, “You have to be good. Good enough to earn a reward from God.”
“But you have to fix yourself. Make sure your bad things don’t disqualify you.”
What about us?
When we look at Jesus, are we assuming we have what it takes for God to accept me? That we deserve it? That we can do it on our own?
That all we need from Jesus is just a few pointers. We can get there ourselves, thanks.
In fact, Jesus has to prove himself to me, on my terms.
“Do this for me Jesus, and maybe, I will consider what you say.”
Yet note Jesus’ reply in verses 37-39. Who is doing what here?
“All those the Father gives.” (6:37)
“I have come down from heaven.” (6:38)
“I shall lose none he has given.” (6:39)
“I shall raise them up on the last day.” (6:39)
God the Father and God the Son are the ones doing all the hard work!
God has provided the way. What we need to do is to rely solely on his work.
Like the first Passover generation, it’s as simple as eating the lamb.
“Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” (6:40)
This truth should assure the believer and give confidence to our evangelism.
We can be confident because all the hard has already been done.
We don’t depend on our moral track record. We rely on Jesus’ perfect record.
We don’t need to hard-sell and twist arms to convert anyone.
We just sow the seed. Share the good news. Jesus is the one who gives faith.
So, who are you trusting for life? For this life and the life to come?
Are you trusting in your own ability to feed yourselves? Or in Jesus’ ability to feed you?
Then, those who heard Jesus “began to grumble about him.” (6:41)
Why? They thought they already knew all there is to know about this Jesus.
Verse 42: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” How can he now say, “I came down from heaven?”
Note they weren’t offended when Jesus miraculously produced bread.
Back in verse 14 they said, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come.”
They guessed he might be the new Moses. They don’t mind another Moses.
What offended them was, this Jesus insists he was “the bread from heaven”!
From heaven? Who does he think he is? God or something? We know his parents!
They’re poor peasants. Nobodies. Rumour has it, Mary was pregnant before the wedding.
Today, many think they already know all there is to know about Jesus.
Reza Aslan, a Muslim scholar, wrote a best-selling book about his Jesus.
Dan Brown, a fiction author, wrote a best-selling novel about his Jesus.
Opinions of Jesus abound. Except few look like the Jesus of the Bible.
To these, Jesus says: “Very truly I tell you, I am the bread of life.” (6:48)
If we want to know the real Jesus, we have to come to him on his terms.
Seven times in John, Jesus speaks of himself using the phrase “I am.”
I am the bread of life (6:48). I am the light of the world (8:12).
I am the gate (10:7). I am the good shepherd (10:11).
I am the true vine (15:1). I am the resurrection and the life (11:25).
I am the way and the truth and the life (14:6)
So, it’s not so much Jesus keeps his identity hidden from us.
It’s us who grumble and refuse to accept who Jesus says he is.
That’s why Jesus points back to Isaiah in verse 45.
It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’
Unless God the Spirit opens our