The day after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee and went over to Capernaum. When the people whom Jesus had fed the day before realized He was gone, many of them went to Capernaum to look for Him. When they found Him, Jesus perceived that the only reason they came looking for Him was because of what He had done the previous day. They weren’t looking for the spiritual nourishment that Jesus offered. They were simply hoping for another easy meal to fill their stomachs. Jesus told them as much when He said to them, “You are seeking me, not because of the signs I performed, but because you ate your fill.” Then He went on to say, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”
In turn, they asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the work that God requires?” Notice that they began that question with the words, “What must we do?” They were quite serious in this inquiry. They weren’t being contentious with Christ, not at this moment. They had been brought up in a legalistic system that taught them that salvation depended on good works, so it would have been a perfectly normal question for them to ask.
Jesus answered them, “The work of God is this: To believe in the One He sent.” That’s from John chapter 6 and verse 29. In the conversation that followed, those were the most important words that were spoken. We’ll soon see why.
Judging from their response, they were caught off guard by that answer… to believe in the One He sent. Believe? That’s all? No way. There must be more to it than that! Jesus, you want us to believe…..in you? Then give us a sign! What will you do? Again, they weren’t being contentious. Jesus was introducing an entirely new teaching. He wasn’t handing down more laws. He wasn’t telling them that they had to do anything, except believe. And so, they wanted to see His credentials. They wanted a sign. Even though Jesus had fed thousands the day before with just a couple of fish and a few pieces of bread, they wanted a sign.
Still, it was not an unreasonable request. Prophets in past times had performed signs and miracles, all by the power of God of course. But the prophets of old were merely messengers of God, not the Son of God, and these people were struggling to understand that Jesus wasn’t just another prophet. To make their case, they pointed out the miracle of the manna that came from Heaven when their ancestors wandered in the wilderness for 40 years during the times of Moses. It seems as though they were saying to Jesus, “Moses gave us a sign; the manna. What sign will you give?” So Jesus responded, Truly truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from Heaven, but my Father gives the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.
“Sir, give us this bread always!” they replied. They didn’t understand that Jesus was talking about Himself. This conversation took place not long after Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. When Jesus spoke to her about “living water”, she asked Him to give her this living water so she wouldn’t have to keep coming back to the well, lugging those heavy water jugs. Just as the woman at the well assumed Jesus was talking about water in liquid form, these people thought Jesus was talking about bread that’s eaten at the dinner table. So He tried to make it a little clearer for them. He said, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never hunger. Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
It was at this point that the conversation did start to become contentious. Unlike the woman at the well who came to believe in Christ when she realized that the ‘living water’ was none other than Jesus Himself, this group of people began to grumble when Jesus called Himself the bread of life. That was when they started questioning the claims He made about Himself. “Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from Heaven?'” And as if telling them He was the bread of life wasn’t enough to make them grumble, what Jesus said next sent shock waves through the crowd.
After twice explaining to them that He’s the bread of life that came down from Heaven, Jesus said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Right then and there, Jesus told the crowd that He was going to give his life for the world and He had already explained what it meant. In verse 29 we saw where He told them, “All you have to do is believe.” And here he goes just a little further. In so many words He said to them, “Believe in me, and in the sacrifice I’m going to make on your behalf.” The only problem was, it went right over their heads.
Yet Jesus continued to teach along that same line. He said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, there is no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”. That sent them into a frenzy. They grumbled even more because now Jesus was talking about cannibalism. Eat his flesh? Drink His blood? They did not understand that Jesus was speaking figuratively when he said “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my bold has eternal life….”Because they were spiritually blind, they took Him literally like Nicodemus did (at first) when Jesus told Him that we have to be born again. Jesus told these people no less than four times in that discourse that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life, and he was using this teaching to show them that believing in Him also includes believing that the sacrifice of His body and blood secures eternal life for believers. Yet they failed to understand any of it. He was telling them to eat of His body and drink of His blood, not as one devours food and drink, but as one is nourished by them.
They had the same problem many people still have today. Many people believe Jesus was a real person who lived and taught the things of God. There are a lot of people who say Jesus was a good person and a good teacher. But they stop short when it comes to believing that the body and blood of Jesus Christ were given as payment for our sins. They just cannot make themselves believe Jesus gave His life for us. They cannot or will not believe that the life of Jesus Christ is sufficient payment for all the sins of the world, past, present, and future for anyone who believes in Him.
Jesus was very real to these people. He was standing right in front of them speaking to them. But many deserted Jesus that day because they said His was a hard teaching. It’s still hard for many people in our time. If they had humbled themselves and truly sought the heart of God, Jesus would have explained all of this to them in much simpler terms as He often did when He explained His parables to the disciples. Not long after this, Jesus began to teach his disciples that He must be arrested, that He must suffer, and then be put to death. Had those people stuck around, they would have heard all that and would have eventually understood, as did the disciples, what Jesus meant when He told them that He was the bread of life.
It’s not a hard teaching at all, really. It’s actually very simple. Believe in God’s Son and all that’s written about Him. When we accepted Jesus, we also accepted His sacrifice on the cross and all it stands for. It’s only hard for those whose hearts are hard because so there are so many who refuse to believe that salvation could possibly be so simple. Just believe. Yes. It is that simple.
Lord, so many hearts are hardened to your truth. Perhaps it’s because of sin in their lives, skepticism, cynicism, doubt, stubbornness, or some form of spiritual blindness that keeps them from seeing the truth. God, they are our neighbors, co-workers, family members, and even members of your churches throughout the world. Father it’s our prayer that you will use us and our faith to soften their hearts and open their eyes to the truth of the gospel. Let us be ready to respond when we’re called to share our faith and help us live our lives in such a way that it will cause them to seek you and give them the desire to know you. Help them see Christ in us. Amen.