Does This Offend You?

Have you ever been followed? I don’t have any clear memories of somebody following me. But I do know what it feels like to have a car driving behind me for a while, turn after turn, as though I were being followed. Now it never turns out to be that way, but sometimes it seems that way.

Perhaps the closest experience to being followed that I have experienced is when I played tag or American football when I was a child at recess or camp. In those moments, when I was not it or when I was running with the football, I did not want to be tagged or tackled. But there were people who chased me to do that very thing. I would run as fast as I could, change directions as quickly as I could, and try to evade the people who were chasing me.

And that is sort of what we see Jesus doing in John 6:22-71. Let’s take a closer look.

The crowd chased after Jesus for the wrong reasons. (John 6:22-30)

At the beginning of John 6, John told us that after Jesus spent time in Jerusalem teaching the crowds and defending himself before the religious leaders. Then he departed, going went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to evade the crowds and spend focused time with his 12 disciples. But what happened? The crowds followed him. In fact, 5,000 men (and probably 10,000-20,000 people, including women and children) made that trip.

How did Jesus respond? He graciously fed them all with bread and fish, serving from a small basket with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. But afterward, he withdrew from the crowd yet again.

But here we find that when he arrived back on the opposite shore of the Sea of Galilee, the crowds found him again. They had been looking for him, hoping to find him. They wanted to make him king, to solve their problems with Rome. But Jesus wanted nothing to do with a political revolution.

Jesus wanted nothing to do with a political revolution.

So why did the crowds chase Jesus around? Jesus addresses three reasons.

Material provision

John 6:26 is rather surprising. Jesus says, “You are not following me because I have performed some miracles. You are following me for a far simpler reason – I gave you food, and you want me to give you more food.”

Do we have this problem? Yes, I think we do. We can follow Jesus because he has done good things for us in a material or financial way, and we want him to do more things like that.

  • He provides us with a pay raise, and we want another one.
  • He provides us with a successful business deal, and we want another one.
  • He provides us with a nice job, and we want another one.
  • He provides us with a nice house, and we want a nice car, too.
  • He provides us with food, and we want even more.

But following Jesus for reasons like this do not impress him. In fact, you can see in this chapter that Jesus is patient with people like this, but he eventually takes steps to get them off his tail. He wants them to stop following him. Stop chasing him. Stop grabbing after him like some kind of genie in the bottle or some kind of heavenly insurance plan.

People who follow Jesus for material reasons like this do not understand what it means to be a disciple. Consider, for instance, when God delivered Israel out from slavery in Egypt. Before that happened, he had allowed them to be in slavery for a couple hundred years. And then after he delivered them, he led them into a wilderness for 3 months and fed them nothing but bread out of heaven, the same stuff every single day. And sometimes they ran out of water.

People who follow Jesus for material reasons like this do not understand what it means to be a disciple.

Why did God allow this? To teach them something. To teach them that the true quality of life for any person does not come out of meeting material needs. It comes from Jesus himself.

That’s why Jesus says in John 6:27, “Don’t spend your life laboring for the kind of food that perishes and expires.” This does not mean that you shouldn’t work a job, earn money and buy groceries. But it means that though you will do that, you should not make groceries, bills and material comforts the pursuit of your life. Why? Because these things never satisfy. They never actually raise the true quality of your inner life, and they certainly give no confidence about your everlasting life.

Religious instruction

The crowds could tell that Jesus did not like their desire for more food. So they asked him a question (John 6:28), “So what should we labor for then? What should we work for then? What can we do to do the kind of work that you want us to do? That God wants us to do?”

And at first, this seems like a very good question. They are saying, “So what do you want us to do?” But they still do not understand what Jesus has been teaching them for hours and days. He replies by saying, “Rather than doing certain things, you need to believe on me and on God who sent me. We are one and the same. I am God, and God the Father is God. Stop trying to reform yourself. Stop trying to conform yourself. Stop trying to do any number of things to get your life in line with God. Instead, believe on me. Believe what I have already been teaching you for days and hours.”

We have this problem, too. We want to know what to do in order to please Jesus and to be on his side of things. What can I do to follow Jesus?

Well, I need to believe on him. Trust him alone. Depend on him completely. That’s it. There’s nothing new. But remarkably, that’s not what we want to hear. We want a list of religious things to do. Steps to take and so on.

Only a few decades later, Paul the apostle explains the same truth this way (Rom. 6:23).

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, we do things – like sin – to earn death. But we do nothing but believe to receive eternal life. It’s that simple. But the crowd of curious disciples ask what they seem to think is a religious and intelligent question. They apparently wanted to see something more.

Astounding miracles

In John 6:30-31, they say, “Well, our ancestors followed Moses into the wilderness because bread rained down from heaven. Can you do the same thing for us so that we can follow you with confidence, knowing that we are following someone like Moses?”

Here, the crowd seemed to think that they really know their stuff. They seem to think that because they knew the basic facts about Moses, the Exodus and the manna that came out of the sky, that they knew precisely what Jesus was saying to them.

But here Jesus has been teaching them for hours and days. What did they learn? Apparently not much. They heard him, but they weren’t listening. They were hearing the sound of his voice, but looking for miracles, bread and political deliverance. And that is not what Jesus came to give them. And remember that he had multiplied bread for them in the wilderness only hours before. What more did they want to see?

Look at John 6:32-34. Jesus told them yet again that they are looking for the wrong thing. The bread they were looking for is actually himself, but they didn’t understand. So they said something that sounded pious. They said, “Well, then do something better than Moses. Give us this bread always.” Always.

This seems to imply that they believed they had caught the meaning Jesus was teaching them. Moses gave bread from heaven for several years, but they believed Jesus could do this forever. They believed that bread from heaven that never stops would give life that never stops, but that’s not true. There is another kind of life, and it’s spiritual. Physical bread only meets your present, temporary physical needs. But Jesus meets your need for true life that lasts forever.

Today, multitudes of people follow Jesus for these reasons. They want food. They want religious instruction. They want astounding miracles. And they often want political deliverance. Jesus may or may not give you some of those things. But if he does, it is something that he does to point you to the greater reality of eternal life and freedom from sin that lasts forever. A relationship with God that transcends physical things. A relationship with God that is better than bread and miracles.

He wants to point you to a relationship with God that is better than bread and miracles.

But if you keep expecting more and more food, more and more miracles and so forth, then at some point you need to understand that you are missing the point.

Jesus surprised them with his answer. (John 6:30-59)

Well, you might think that Jesus would be pleased. After all, this crowd of 10,000 – 20,000 people had followed him from one side of the sea to the other, and back again. And he never told them to do it. They just did. And they were very eager to do so.

But Jesus knew better. He knew that for all of his teaching, miracles and meeting their physical needs, they were not really listening to what he was teaching them. There was nothing new to say. There were no more miracles to perform. So, he doubled down on what he had been teaching them, but he said it in a way that made them listen. And it made them reveal what they really thought about him. They wanted deliverance, but they didn’t want the kind of deliverance he was offering.

They wanted deliverance, but they didn’t want the kind of deliverance he was offering.

He is the bread of life.

Jesus doubled down on what he was saying, that he is the bread of life. He did not come to give them miraculous bread or material bread. He came to give them himself. He came to be the bread they needed. He is the bread they needed. He is what will satisfy and give the quality of life that will last forever, in a close relationship with God.

  • I am the bread of life. (John 6:35)
  • I am the bread that came down from heaven. (John 6:41)
  • I am the bread of life. (John 6:48)
  • I am the living bread. (John 6:51)

But in saying this, Jesus went even farther. He ensured that what he said would effectively weed out the merely curious disciples from the crowd. So he said something more strongly.

You need to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
  • The bread that I give is my flesh. (John 6:51)

When the crowd heard this unusual statement, they began arguing with each other, trying to figure out what Jesus was saying. How in the world could they eat his flesh? What could he possibly mean by this?

Did Jesus answer this question for them? Yes, he did. But he did it in such a way that challenged them even more.

  • Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no spiritual life in you. (John 6:53)
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. (John 6:54)
  • My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. (John 6:55)
  • He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him. (John 6:56)
  • He who feeds on me will live. (John 6:57)

Now this is an interesting point. One mark of a good teacher is that he makes what he says clear and easy to understand. But that is not the only mark of a good teacher. A good teacher also teaches people to listen to what he is saying. And so, a good teacher is more concerned about a few number of people really understanding what he says and less concerned about having a large crowd following him because they like him.

A good teacher is more concerned about a few number of people really understanding what he says and less concerned about having a large crowd following him because they like him.

To do this, to ensure real learning and to prevent merely becoming popular with a crowd, a good teacher sometimes says things that are hard to understand. This requires students to listen and to learn. And that’s what Jesus does here.

A good teacher sometimes says things that are hard to understand.

In John 6:60, the people in the crowd say, “Wow, this is a hard saying. Who can understand it?”

But Jesus gives the key for them to understand it in John 6:63. He says, “I am talking about spiritual things. Physical food doesn’t deliver a person from her sins. I’ve already told you that. But you are so infatuated with your physical needs and desires that you are interpreting anything I say as a reference to physical food. You are so disoriented in your thinking that no matter what I say or do, you will not understand. For instance, I just told you to eat my flesh and drink my blood. And what is your reaction? We need to eat Jesus like a cannibal would, and that’s ridiculous. It is not physical food of any kind, even if it were my body, that would save you. It is spiritual food that you need, and I am that spiritual food. I am telling you how to receive true, everlasting life. But some of you refuse to believe.”

So what was the result of his teaching this way?

His followers responded differently. (John 6:60-71)

So how did the people respond to this? Did they say, “Aha! Now I see it! We need you spiritually. We don’t need you to give us bread. We need you to give us eternal, spiritual life.” No, they didn’t say this.

Many stopped following him.

John 6:66 tells us that from that point forward, many stopped following him. They chased him around the countryside no more. They went home and returned to ordinary life. They went on looking for another Messiah, one who would deliver them from Rome and give them food to eat. They weren’t interested in eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus. They did not want to have a spiritual conversation. They just wanted help in this material world, that’s all.

A few stayed with him.

John 6:67 tells us that Jesus – as he watched the crowds disperse – turned to his 12 disciples. Now, mind you, these are the ones with whom he had spent personal, quality time. These are the ones whom he had shoved into the sea for a storm. The crowds didn’t share that experience. These are the ones who had suffered for following him.

He turned to them and asked, “Would you like to go away from me now, too?”

But Peter spoke for the group and said, “No. We know you are speaking the true words of life. And we believe that you are the Son of God who came to save us from our sins.”

Becoming a disciple of Jesus requires, somewhere along the line, that you set aside your fascination with material needs and worldly success and listen to the teaching of Jesus with all your heart, looking past the carnal, physical understanding to the spiritual truth that God is teaching you – the kind of truth that is more important than worldly wisdom.

Becoming a disciple of Jesus requires, somewhere along the line, that you set aside your fascination with material needs and worldly success and listen to the teaching of Jesus with all your heart.

One stayed with him for the wrong reason.

Here you have one disciple who stayed with Jesus, but astonishingly didn’t believe. I can’t explain this, I can only observe the fact. It is possible, in any group of disciples and in any church, that there are some who are following Jesus, associating with Jesus, listening to the teaching from the Bible and doing things that look like service for Jesus – but they are not with Jesus in their heart. We know that eventually Judas betrayed Jesus for some money.

Can I explain this? No. But while many people go their own way, living for the things of this world, there are some that still go through the motions of following Jesus, even though they do not believe. May this not be the case for you. Do you believe on Jesus as God and Savior, or not? Do you believe on him for eternal life and forgiveness of sins? Or do you believe on him for food, material provision, miracles and social deliverance?

Dear Friend

Are you believing on Jesus? Do you understand what it means to “eat his flesh and drink his blood?” Do you understand your need to turn away from the wrong thinking that your individual need before God is far deeper than food, miracles and social struggles? It is for God himself. You need Jesus to take away your sins, whether you have a full refrigerator or not. Have you looked past all of your needs in this material world and turned to Jesus alone for salvation from sin and death in this world and the next? If no, then you need to do that today. Click here.

Dear Fellow Believer

Are you following Jesus for the right reasons? Or are you just going through the motions? Are you okay with suffering? Okay with being hungry? Okay with being uncomfortable with your political situation? Okay with what seems to be a very ordinary life? And are you okay with all of this because you have Jesus and you simply want to follow him and teach others to follow him too? Or are you expecting great material benefits from following Jesus (click here)? Pause to reflect and to be sure that you are finding your contentment and quality of life in your heart, in Jesus, and not in material things of this world.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *