The Bread of Life

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As John 6 opens, we find Jesus being followed by crowds of people who had seen his miracles and wanted to see more.  As they gathered around Him as He and His disciples sat in the hills, Jesus asked Phillip how they could feed the crowd.  Seeing only the impossibility of the situation, Phillip responds that it would cost a fortune to feed so many people.  Andrew points out a young boy with five loaves and two fish, but even he doesn’t seem to expect the miracle that Jesus performs.  Jesus takes the loaves and fish, gives thanks to God for it and passes it out to the people, feeding everyone and leaving twelve baskets full of leftovers after everyone had eaten their fill.  The people, seeing this, exclaim that Jesus must be the Prophet for whom they had waited, but they still don’t understand who Jesus is.  The people want to make Him their king when He offers to be their Savior.

The crowds continue to seek Him the next day, and eventually they catch up to where Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.  Jesus knows that they are following Him only because they saw His miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 the previous day.  In verses 26 and 27, He says to them:

26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man[a] can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

The people have been seeking miracles instead of seeking the miracle Maker.  They seem to view Jesus as some sort of reality TV show; they want to see His next “trick” and find out how it will be of benefit to them.  Jesus seems to be of great entertainment value to the people.

However, the people do ask Jesus what God wants them to do.  Jesus tells them that God wants them to believe in the one He has sent (verse 29).  The people then apparently suffer a memory lapse, because they tell Jesus that He must perform a miraculous sign for them to believe in Him — as if they hadn’t just seen and benefited from his miraculous feeding the day before!   Jesus explains that they are now being offered the true bread from heaven, and the people say that this is what they want.  At that time, Jesus replies, “I am the bread of life.”  He goes on to explain that anyone who eats of this bread has eternal life and that His flesh is the bread and His blood is the drink.  The people do not understand this concept at all, and they murmur among themselves about what He could mean.  In fact, even His disciples could not all accept this difficult teaching and many abandoned Him that day.  Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks them if they are going to leave Him, too.  The beautiful response comes in verses 68-69:

68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.[a]

Aren’t we often like the people in this chapter, seeking the miracle instead of the miracle Maker?  Oh, that we would seek after Him above all else!  Even when we try to follow Him, don’t we sometimes find His words to be hard to understand and difficult to follow?  Take heart!  As James tells us, all we have to do is ask for wisdom and He will gladly give it to us (James 1:5).    Such wisdom will help us understand what God wants us to do, and He will, by His Holy Spirit working within us, give us everything we need in order to follow Him.  Now that is good news indeed.

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“Would You Like to Get Well?”

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John 5 is a chapter in which there are many interesting contrasts. One of the most interesting contrasts is that of people’s reactions to the offering of two different miracles.  One man receives his miracle and the other group of people refuse theirs.  Let’s take a look at what happens.

The chapter opens with Jesus returning to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days.  He passes the pool of Bethesda where there were five porches filled with people who were sick, lame or blind – people hoping for a miraculous healing if they could be the first to get into the pool of Bethesda when the waters were stirred by the angel of the Lord.  There Jesus encounters a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years.  Jesus  asks him, “Would you like to get well?”  The man replies that he can’t because he has nobody to help him get into the pool and someone always beats him to it.  Jesus then commands him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  The man is instantly cured and begins to walk!

Let’s think about this man for a minute before we move on to what happens next.  This man has been lame for thirty-eight years.  Thirty-eight years of not being in the workforce and able to support himself.  Thirty-eight years of limited social involvement.  Thirty-eight years of being abandoned by friends and family.  Thirty-eight years of watching the waters, of waiting for them to be stirred, and of trying to get into the pool first. That’s a very long time to wait and hope for a miracle, and yet he didn’t give up.  He remained by the pool, ever watching for his chance to receive a miracle.  He had done all that he could do but in the end he was unable to help himself be healed.  He knew that help would have to come from someone else if he were to receive his miracle.  This man who had nobody to help him is ultimately helped by the Son of Man, who cures him in an instant.  Oh, to have a heart like his that remained hopeful and believed through such a long period of suffering!

When the Jewish leaders see the healed man as he leaves Bethesda, they are not amazed that he has been cured.  They do not celebrate his healing with him and welcome him back into society.  Instead, they are concerned that he is breaking the law by working on the Sabbath by carrying his sleeping mat.  They demand to know who commanded him to do such a thing, breaking the law of Moses.  When they find out it was Jesus, they begin harassing Jesus about it.  Jesus replies in verse 17, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?”  This claim, which makes Him equal to God, enrages the leaders, who plot all the more to kill Jesus.

Jesus, fully aware of their murderous thoughts, continues to explain that He is authorized  by the Father to do the things that He does.  He even goes so far as to offer the Jewish leaders the gift of eternal life in verse 24, where He says:

“I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life.  They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”

The Jewish leaders react with surprise so Jesus continues to reason with them.  He lays out all the witnesses that testify that He is the Son of God in verses 31-47:

  • John the Baptist testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Jesus’s teachings testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Jesus’s miracles testified as to who Jesus is,
  • The Father has testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Scriptures testify as to who Jesus is,
  • Moses testified as to who Jesus is

In their culture, two witnesses to something were treated as irrefutable evidence and Jesus laid out many more than just two witnesses to testify for Him, and yet the Jewish leaders still refused to believe that Jesus is who He said He was.  You can almost feel Jesus’s heart breaking as He tells the leaders in verses 39 and 40, “You search the Scriptures because you believe they give you eternal life.  But the Scriptures point to me!  Yet you refuse to come to me so that I can give you eternal life.” [Emphasis added.]  He makes another desperate plea for them to believe in verses 45c-47 where He says, “Yes, Moses, on whom you set your hopes.  But if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me because he wrote about me.  And since you don’t believe  what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”  These men, scholars of the Scriptures, were unable to accept that Jesus was the Messiah and therefore they denied themselves the miracle  of eternal life.

What if the man by the pool had refused Jesus’s miracle because he wasn’t being helped into the water, where he thought the miracle would come from?  What if, unlike the Jewish leaders, we looked at the evidence for ourselves and chose to believe?

We, like the people we just read about, have decisions to make.  Will we prepare our hearts to receive a miracle, even when it seems distant from us?  Or will we be so insistent that the miracle look a certain way that, if packaged differently than we expect, we refuse it?

 

The Wedding at Cana

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In John 2:1-11, we read about a wedding that took place in Cana.  Jesus, his mother and his disciples were all guests at this wedding.  However, as the celebration went on, the wine that had been provided ran out.  Mary brings this to the attention of Jesus, knowing that he will do something about it. She therefore instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus says.  At his instruction, the servants fill six large jars to the brim with water, and then they take some to the master of ceremonies.

The master of ceremonies knows nothing of what has transpired, but when he tastes the water, which is now wine, I imagine that he becomes very excited.  He calls over the bridegroom and exclaims, “You have kept the best until now!”  Because of the miracle they had seen, the disciples believed in Him.

Jesus performs this miracle very quietly and inconspicuously.  Most people who were present at the wedding ceremony did not even realize that a miracle had been performed in their midst that evening.  In fact, only Mary, the disciples and the servants knew of the miracle that changed the water into wine.  Jesus seems not to have wanted to upstage the marriage celebration by becoming the center of attention, as He surely would have had the people seen what He had done.

There are three points about this passage that I find remarkable.

First, Mary sees the need and she goes straight to Jesus, knowing that he will do something about it.  This is a remarkable step of faith as up to this point, Jesus has not performed any miracles.  However, she makes her request on the behalf of another known to Jesus. She also takes action that will allow her to receive the miracle by telling the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Second, the bridegroom is unaware of his need.  He has no idea that he has run out of wine. He has no idea that it was Jesus who has provided the new wine for him.  Yet he and all of the guests present are beneficiaries of God’s goodness and generosity.

Third, Jesus answers the need with an overabundance.    Jesus doesn’t provide just the bare minimum needed to get by; he does “immeasurably  more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).  The six jars would have held between 120-180 GALLONS of wine for the celebration.

I wonder how many times someone else has seen a need in my life that I’m unaware of and they have gone to God with that need in prayer and in faith.  I wonder how many times Jesus has quietly and sweetly provided miraculously for me when I didn’t even know I needed His provision.  I wonder how many times I’ve been a beneficiary of His overabundance.

I wonder who I can lift up in prayer today so that they might also be beneficiary of God’s goodness and generosity.