(…continued) In John 6:5 the situation is not as desperate. The people are hungry, but they are not in the desert. They could walk back to their homes for dinner. But here too, a miracle is provided, and 5,000 people are fed with five small barley loaves and two fish. However, Jesus was not pleased with the crowd’s response. This is a bit puzzling because the response of these people seems far more positive than the response in the Old Testament story. In Exodus 16 they respond with still more grumbling, but in John 6 they respond by enthusiastically following Jesus, pursuing him all the way to the other side of the lake.
But Jesus calls into question their reason for seeking him out. In verse 26 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” The fact that Jesus had performed a miracle pointed to who he was, but that was not what the people were interested in. All they cared about was the free lunch, but that was nothing compared to being with Jesus. Jesus was there primarily to speak to their eternal, spiritual needs, and he was disappointed that all they cared about was that their bellies were full. So Jesus in verse 27 Jesus said to them, “Do not work so hard only for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which I am here to give you.” Yes, we do need to eat, but don’t follow Jesus only for what you can get out of him in the here and now. Jesus said that God pours out his blessings on the good and the wicked in this life. Rather, we follow Jesus because of who He is and what he means to us for all eternity.
This applies not only to what we get from Jesus, but also to what we do not get from Jesus in this life. It oftentimes happens that someone will cease to believe in Jesus after praying and not getting what they desperately needed right now. That happens all the time and in the most terrible circumstances, and I don’t know why some people have to endure so much suffering. All we can do is what the Bible itself does, calling us back to God, who has all eternity in which to make things right.
A dozen miracles weren’t enough for the people of Israel being led by Moses. When the earthly blessings came to an end (or were delayed), the complaining would begin again. Jesus pointed to a deeper hope and promise than the hope and promise of getting the next meal (John 6:35): “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” “This,” he had said in verse 32, “is the true bread from heaven.” From heaven, he said, not from the grocery store. Jesus was talking about another place and an entirely different kind of hope. Keep your eyes on this eternal promise, follow Jesus for this hope, and you will be able to endure even life’s worst tragedies and biggest disappointments.
Jesus used bread as a symbol of our most basic spiritual need, the need for Jesus himself. “I am the bread of life, eternal life,” he said. Several months later, on the evening before his death, Jesus would take bread and say “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you.” This bread does not perish, but lasts unto life everlasting. One may lack daily bread and even starve to death, and still possess Jesus, the bread of heaven.
The question implied in the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is “What do you want from Jesus?” If all you want is earthly blessings, security, and well-being, there is no need to even bother believing in Jesus. Anyone with two eyes can see that everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, get a mixed bag of blessings and troubles in this life. And Christians do not necessarily get the best mixture. If this life is all you are concerned about, there is no need to look to Jesus. But Jesus came to bring that bread which endures to eternal life. Look to him and you will be all right, now and forever— food or no food, health or no health, in life and in death.
John 6:35 — Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
I Corinthians 15:19 — If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
John 6:27a — (Jesus said), “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Romans 14:8-9 — If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
We thank Thee for our daily bread,
Let also, Lord, our souls be fed.
O Bread of life, from day to day,
Sustain us on our homeward way. Amen.