The escalation: Putting Faith to the test (Part 1)

Faith is not Faith unless it is tested. And a test is not a test unless it puts before us the possibility of being offended at God. The stumbling stone can only do its job if it is placed right in the middle of our path.

After the feeding of the 5000, the gospels tell us that Jesus sent his disciples back to their boats to return to Capernaum, but He remained behind to dismiss the crowds. Why?

John 6: 14 The men therefore, having seen the sign which Jesus had done, said, This is truly the prophet which is coming into the world.

A reference to Deuteronomy 18:15 (NIV) The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. The people remembered Moses’ words and decided to do something about it…

John 6:15 Jesus therefore knowing that they were going to come and seize him, that they might make [him] king, departed again to the mountain himself alone.

This is why Jesus told the disciples to go. He didn’t want them facing such a temptation… certainly not Simon the zealot or Judas Iscariote. He dismissed the crowds and turned around and also left. Note that, here, if He had wanted to, if His mission had been to take over as King of Israel, and bring about the fulfilment of all the apocalyptic literature of His people, to bring about the millennium where the whole world is governed by the Messiah, He could have done it.  But He didn’t.

In fact, He did the exact opposite. He rejected the people’s adulation; leaving them to wonder: What kind of revolutionary leader is this?

John 6:16-18 But when evening was come, his disciples went down to the sea, and having gone on board ship, they went over the sea to Capernaum. And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not come to them, and the sea was agitated by a strong wind blowing.

We know this story from the more detailed account in Matthew…

Matthew 14:25-33 (NIV) Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Again, John omits a well-known story.

In the big picture of Jesus’ determined actions, what happened here makes sense. He is about to challenge the faith of the people following Him, including His disciples. But here the disciples are still fresh from having gone out and experiencing the miraculous power of the gospel and the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. In the presence of Jesus, it is going to be hard for them not to believe. Which is why Peter decided, If it is you… you have the power to let me walk on water. And even though it is true that Peter’s faith faltered regarding that ability to walk on water, it did not falter regarding knowing whom to reach out for help.

To really challenge the disciples is going to take facing them with the possibility of losing Jesus.

What do we expect God to do?

The thread of the story in John at this point is the faith of the crowds (which probably, most accurately represent you and I.)

John 6:22-24 On the morrow the crowd which stood on the other side of the sea, having seen that there was no other little ship there except that into which his disciples had got, and that Jesus had not gone with his disciples into the ship, but [that] his disciples had gone away alone; (but other little ships out of Tiberias came near to the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks;) when therefore the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, *they* got into the ships, and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

So, they come after Him. You would think this is a good thing.

John 6:25 And having found him the other side of the sea, they said to him, Rabbi, when art thou arrived here?

This is an innocent enough question which Jesus could have answered all sorts of ways. Except He chooses to answer it with a challenge.

John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, Ye seek me not because ye have seen signs, but because ye have eaten of the loaves and been filled.

This is not a neutral answer. It is a rebuke. He is telling them that they are motivated by their belly, their appetites, not by their heart. And to make it clear that this is what He means He goes on:

John 6:27 Work not [for] the food which perishes, but [for] the food which abides unto life eternal, which the Son of man shall give to you; for him has the Father sealed, [even] God.

How would you respond to such an answer? I mean this is the guy that I had decided last night was worthy of being made my King. I was willing to go out on a limb, to stand behind him; maybe even risk the Roman army’s wrath as I marched behind him into Jerusalem. What kind of gratitude is this?  (Although, to be honest, what kind of risk did I really think I was going to run? With someone that can make food appear out of nowhere, we can all imagine what else he could do… like bring fire down from heaven.)

That there is a bit of snarkyness building up can be gleaned from the way they will reply. And the problem with snarkyness, in general, is that we stop listening. They completely ignored Jesus’ follow-up. He told them that what they need is a new kind of food, which only He – the Son of Man – can give them; and the evidence that He is the prescribed source of that food is that God the Father has stamped Him with His seal of approval.

That’s a mouthful. So many things they could have asked about that. Of course, none of this was new. People surely had heard of the thunder that rumbled when He was baptized. People surely had heard what John the baptizer had said about Him being the Son of God; about Him being the one to follow. Jesus evidently had been claiming this mission of eternal life since he spoke to Nicodemus.

Jesus plainly told them, stop striving, stop spending all your energy in trying to get the earthy food. He already told them long ago, at the Sermon on the Mount, all you need in that regard is to ask your Heavenly Father for that daily food. So, what you need to strive for is eternal life. Again, in the Sermon, He told them the same thing… seek first the Kingdom of Heaven… choose the narrow road… build your house by digging into the hard ground of God’s word.

But all they heard of His reply was His use of the word “work” and they cling to that…

John 6:28 They said therefore to him, What should we do that we may work the works of God?

Notice that their question implies that whatever he did yesterday on the other coast ought to be something I can do too. Surely if this carpenter from Nazareth can do these miraculous works of God, I should be able to do the same.

But life, eternal life, is not about work we can do…

John 6:29 Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom *he* has sent.

The only work you need is to believe.

Even today, there are many people who hear this Truth about the gospel and think it is too simple… “No, there has to be more to it; more that proves that I am worthy, that I deserve this, that you (God)… need me.”

But they don’t quite get it. Because they do not understand what it means to believe in Jesus. They think He is asking them to trust him as a leader, to trust him as their boss, or as the one that will use them to accomplish his purposes. Maybe even that he is asking them to believe his teachings. And they are still thinking of themselves as the people that have the power to choose and make him King.

You see? They are placing themselves at the same level as him. “Ok… you want us to believe you; what do you give us in exchange? How are you going to prove to us that you are a safe bet, a good investment?”

It completely misses the reality of what Jesus has been teaching since the Sermon on the Mount, where He clearly told them that when they die and come to face the Judgment in the Kingdom of God, He, Jesus, will be the decision maker.

We are nowhere close to being on the same level as Him.

And yet, that is what they think and so they ask him for a sign, a proof of his worth.

John 6:30 They said therefore to him, What sign then doest thou that we may see and believe thee? what dost thou work?

Now, really, this has to make us chuckle. These people already saw a sign the previous day that not one of them could presume to do. So, what are they saying? They are saying: We have the right to escalate our demands…

John 6: 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.

So, they are saying that it wasn’t enough that Jesus multiplied the bread and the fish, they say, let’s see you bring “bread”, manna, out of heaven itself, like Moses did. If you can work that miracle, then we will believe.

But Jesus corrects their misconception: It wasn’t Moses who brought manna out of heaven…

Jesus 6:32 Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, [It is] not Moses that has given you the bread out of heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.

It was God who did that back then and it is the same God who is doing it right now… except the manna is not what you were expecting. Because the work God is doing now is to deliver the TRUE BREAD from Heaven…

John 6:33 For the bread of God is he who comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.

They are not going to understand this answer because it is not what they expect. But the important thing to realize is that it is the answer. Because it is God’s answer.

And if there is anyone who has the right to decide how we human beings are supposed to be saved, it can only be God, the God who made us. He knew how we would make a mess of this world. He knew how we would make a mess of our lives. And yet He made us because He loved us. And because of that love He crafted a way to bring us back to Him. It was because of that love that He sent His One and Only Son to bring us eternal life.

That crowd of Jesus’ day is not that far from the crowds around us in this world today.

There are many people today that will hear this answer, that Jesus is The Way, the only way to eternal life, and they will say “What?!” It will seem inconceivable to them that God would have the gall to choose to make One way. Yet, here Jesus is making that claim. He will make it in even stronger terms later, but it cannot be denied from what He has just said here, and what he said in the Sermon on the Mount.

One way… take it or leave it.

The question then for us is: How do we react?

What will it take to keep us from Jesus?

John 6:34 They said therefore to him, Lord, ever give to us this bread.

They don’t get it. But that’s OK because Jesus has begun the escalation… This is too important to leave any of them (or us) in the dark.

John 6: 35 [And] Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger, and he that believes on me shall never thirst at any time.

And now you can imagine the faces of the people that just heard him calling himself bread… claiming to be the source of eternal life. We know they were patently shocked because Jesus goes on:

John 6:36 But I have said to you, that ye have also seen me and do not believe.

In other words: You are claiming to be shocked… What is it about all I have done and said, which you have heard and seen, because you keep following me everywhere, that you did not understand? Really, why does this shock you? What did you think I was?

And then He renders the verdict: You don’t need any sign from heaven because all my works – words and deeds – are, in and of themselves sufficient to testify that I was sent by God the Father. If you don’t “get this” it is not because it is not clear, it is because you refuse to believe it.

As true as this was back then, it is true today. Jesus will expound on this a little later (it is a thread He started in John 5:17) but here He foreshadows its coming conclusion:

We all are living in the Presence of the Father. He works every day, and He speaks every day. And when He speaks, every one of us can understand His voice. And anyone who listens and obeys places himself in the hands of the Father… And once we are there, we are secure:

John 6:37-40 All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and him that comes to me I will not at all cast out. For I am come down from heaven, not that I should do *my* will, but the will of him that has sent me. And this is the will of him that has sent me, that of all that he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up in the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son, and believes on him, should have life eternal; and I will raise him up at the last day.

There it is, Jesus’ claim about Himself. He is The Way of salvation that the Father chose. Now it is up to us to decide to accept it or not.

And what is it that stands in our way? What is it that keeps us from accepting it? The answer is: The offense at the very thought… that God would have the gall to make this the only way of salvation…

John 6:41-42 The Jews therefore murmured about him, because he said, I am the bread which has come down out of heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we have known? how then does *he* say, I am come down out of heaven?

To the crowd around Him, the offense took the form of “Why would God pick someone like this to be the Messiah? Surely God could do a lot better, use someone a lot better: at least someone courageous enough to be made King and face the Romans. And, to boot, he is delusional”

What about us today?

Why is this message of the cross so offensive still. And if you don’t think it is, just try to tell someone on the street, an acquaintance, that Jesus is the only way. And then stand back and listen to their reply.

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