Five Minute Devotions: John 6
John 6 begins with the most well-known miracle of Jesus outside the Resurrection. It is recorded in all four gospels and helps mark a turning point in Jesus’s ministry. Since we will have other opportunities to consider this passage in detail, we’ll be looking at a more bird’s-eye view today.
Up to this point, John has followed the progression of popularity and resistance to Jesus and his message. By John 5, the Jewish leaders are beginning to mount an organized resistance to Jesus. They finally have “probable cause” to go after him on the basis of his healing on the Sabbath.
But it’s these healings that have made Jesus popular with the common man. John 6:2 says that:
A huge crowd was following him because they saw the signs that he was performing by healing the sick. – John 6:2
Later, we learn that the men in the crowd numbered 5,000. Any number above this is speculation, but it is not a far reach to assume that the total including women and children is 10,000+. Jesus has convened the first megachurch.
The crowd absolutely adores him. They are ready to name him Messiah. Ready for his overthrow of Rome. Excited for the coming political revolution. Their sick are being healed. Their lame are walking. The blind are seeing. Jesus is amassing his proletariat army and becoming quite the powerful figure.
Even more so once he begins to teach them. Other Gospels give us more insight into Jesus’s emotions in this moment than John. Mark records that Jesus had compassion on them, because he saw them as a sheep without a shepherd. Like a good youth pastor, perhaps, Jesus feeds them as well.
He takes the lunch of a young boy. Five small loaves. Two small fish. Enough to fill the stomach of a young child. And, with a prayer, it becomes enough to feed all who are there—and more. Twelve basketfuls of bread and fish are left over.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This truly is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” – John 6:14
Their reference was to a prophecy of Moses back in Deuteronomy:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. – Deuteronomy 18:15
But their adoration soon turned to admonishment. As the people gear up to declare Jesus their king, their Messiah withdraws into the mountain alone. It is not his time. This is not his path.
We have to skip over his miraculous walk across Galilee and move on to the next morning. The people are surprised to find Jesus in Capernaum. They know his disciples didn’t take him across the sea. They know he didn’t walk through their midst on his way around it.
Not even 24 hours have passed and they want a new miracle. Jesus calls them out on it:
Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. – John 6:26
The people balk at his criticism. Moses gave his people bread from heaven every day! For forty years! Surely you can do the same!
Jesus tries to move the conversation from physical salvation and provision to spiritual salvation and provision. He calls himself the bread of life, of which they must partake in order to be saved. Salvation comes through participation in the life of Christ—and mind you, he’s going toward a Cross.
This is not the gospel message the crowd wanted to hear. Gone is the gospel of prosperity. The gospel of provision is no more. This is no political savior, no king to save them from Rome.
Therefore, when many of his disciples heard this, they said, “This teaching is hard. Who can accept it?”… From that moment many of his disciples turned back and no longer accompanied him… – John 6:60, 66
It is not the Gospel has been tried and found wanting. The gospel has been found hard and left untried. The crowds were with Jesus until they saw where he was going. They were willing to follow until they were called to participate.
They pretended to not understand him. But they understood him well enough to know that he was not a messiah for their purposes.
All of this leads to the plaintive lament of Jesus. He turns to the Twelve: Will you leave me also? Peter, who always spoke first and often shouldn’t have gets it right this one time:
“Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:68-69
Bread of life, be our spiritual provision and nourishment. Grant us the courage to enter boldly into the life to which you have called us. We declare you to be our Lord, our Messiah, our God.
What kind of Messiah were the people expecting?
Why did Jesus not accept their belief that he was their King, given that he was?
In what tone do you hear Peter’s response? Is he firm and confident? Hesitant and wavering?
The header image is La multiplicité des pains (The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes), painted in the late 1800s by Joseph Tissot. It currently hangs in the Brooklyn Museum.
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