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Lesson 33: Seeking Jesus Rightly (John 6:22-36)

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November 3, 2013

What are you seeking for in life? We all seek happiness, but where are you looking for that happiness? Some think that they will find it in financial success or a satisfying career, and so they devote themselves to those pursuits. Others think that they will find happiness in sex. They become enslaved to pornography, or they go from one partner to the next. Many try to find that pleasure in alcohol or drugs, only to destroy their lives. Some seek happiness through marriage and children. While a happy family is a blessing from God, it should never become our main source for happiness, because we can easily lose it through death. And often our families can be the source of great pain. As Solomon makes clear in Ecclesiastes, any earthly thing that you seek to satisfy the inner void is like chasing soap bubbles. You catch one only to have it burst in your hand.

The Bible is clear that our ultimate source of happiness and pleasure is found only in God. David wrote (Ps. 16:11), “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Jesus told the disciples (John 15:11), “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” We will find fullness of joy and pleasures forever when we seek God.

A. W. Tozer begins his spiritual classic, The Pursuit of God ([Christian Publications], p. 11), by pointing out “that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.” As Paul says (Rom. 3:11), “There is none who seeks for God.” Tozer adds (ibid.), “We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit.” Thus we can’t take credit for our pursuit of God.

And yet at the same time, the Bible clearly exhorts everyone, including the ungodly, to seek the Lord. Isaiah 55:6-7 calls to us,

Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

So there is a mystery here: no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44), and yet we are commanded to come to Jesus and to seek Him diligently. We begin by seeking Him for the mercy of salvation and we keep seeking Him for the grace to live in a manner pleasing to Him. It’s a lifelong quest. The prophet Hosea said (6:3), “So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.” The apostle Paul echoes that (Phil. 3:7-11), where he says that he has counted all of his former gains as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ. Even though he had known Christ for about 25 years when he wrote that letter, he admits that he had not yet attained what he desired. Then he added (Phil. 3:14), “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Tozer put it like this (ibid., p. 14, 17),

Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking…. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

In our text (John 6:24), many of the people whom Jesus had fed with the loaves and fish “came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.” The morning after the miracle, they couldn’t find Jesus. They knew that He had not left in the boat with the disciples and that there had not been any other boats there the night before. But they couldn’t find Him. So when some small boats from Tiberias came there, these people got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. Their question when they found Him (6:25), “Rabbi, when did You get here?” shows that they couldn’t figure out how He got there because they didn’t know about His walking on the water to the disciples.

Jesus could have replied, “I got here early this morning after I walked on the water to the disciples and joined them in the boat.” That answer would have caused some jaws to drop! But Jesus didn’t answer their question. Instead, He confronted them because even though they had gone to a good bit of trouble to seek Him, they were seeking Him wrongly. They sought Him because they wanted a political Messiah to bring peace and prosperity. By reversing their negative example into a positive one, we can learn how to seek Jesus rightly:

Seek Jesus for the right reason, by the right route, and through the right relationship to give you eternal life.

These Jews were seeking Jesus for the wrong reason: They wanted Him to provide them with material comfort, not with eternal life (6:22-27). They were seeking by the wrong route: works, not faith (6:28-29). And, they were seeking Jesus as the new Moses, to provide them with what they wanted, but not as the satisfying bread of life whom they could know personally (6:30-36).

1. Seek Jesus for the right reason: Desire eternal food, not temporal food (6:22-27).

Jesus confronts the multitude (John 6:26): “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” He means that they had missed the true significance of the miracle that He had just performed. Rightly understood, the miracle of the loaves and fish should have turned them to Christ as their Messiah, who could satisfy their spiritual hunger for time and eternity. But, as one commentator put it (Lange, cited by F. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John [Zondervan], 2:18), “Instead of seeing in the bread the sign, they had seen in the sign only the bread.” Their minds were on the temporal and material, rather than on the eternal and spiritual. They wanted their stomachs filled, but they weren’t seeking Jesus for eternal life. They had no sense of their sin or their need to be reconciled to the holy God. They sought Jesus only for what He could do for them materially.

Jesus’ words here obviously refute the popular heresy that it is God’s will for every Christian to be financially prosperous. The false teachers who promote this damnable teaching are preying on people’s greed. Sadly, this teaching is rampant in many poor countries, as well as in the United States. It deceives people into thinking that their real need is more money, when in fact their real need is the eternal life that Jesus offers. So, Jesus becomes Aladdin’s Genie to help you get what you want out of life. But He isn’t the Savior from sin, who satisfies your soul whether you are rich or poor, living in a nice home or locked up in a cold prison cell.

So Jesus exhorts (6:27), “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Jesus doesn’t mean that you should quit your job and take a vow of poverty. The Bible commends hard work and commands us to provide adequately for our families (Col. 3:23; 1 Tim. 5:8). It does not condemn having earthly riches, although it does warn about the dangers of riches (1 Tim. 6:8-10, 17-19).

Rather, Jesus is showing us by way of contrast where to put our focus. As He said in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Or, as Jesus graphically illustrated with the parable of the man who wanted to build bigger barns to store his wealth, but who died that very night, to end up rich in this world’s goods, but to die poor toward God, is a huge mistake (Luke 12:15-21). We should not be so caught up with working to put food on the table that we neglect working for “the food which endures to eternal life.”

I’ll comment more on this when we look at 6:28-29, but note the irony of Jesus’ statement that we should work for this food that endures to eternal life, and yet at the same time, the Son of Man gives it to us. It’s the same as when Jesus exhorted His hearers (Luke 13:24), “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Or (Matt. 11:12), “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” There is a lot of effort involved in “striving” and “taking the kingdom by force.” And yet at the same time, Jesus gives living water to the spiritually thirsty and the true bread of eternal life to the hungry (John 4:10; 6:27, 32, 35).

What does it mean to work “for the food which endures to eternal life”? J. C. Ryle (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:347) sums it up well:

How are we to labor? There is but one answer. We must labor in the use of all appointed means. We must read our Bibles, like men digging for hidden treasure. We must wrestle earnestly in prayer, like men contending with a deadly enemy for life. We must take our whole heart to the house of God, and worship and hear like those who listen to the reading of a benefactor’s will. We must fight daily against sin, the world, and the devil, like those who fight for liberty, and must conquer, or be slaves. These are the ways we must walk in if we would find Christ, and be found of Him. This is “laboring.” This is the secret of getting on about our souls.

As always, Ryle cuts to the quick! Evaluate yourself in light of his words and put them into action. Figure out how to rearrange your busy schedule so that you take the time and effort to work for the food which endures to eternal life.”

Before we leave these verses, note three important truths here about Jesus. First, Jesus knows your motives. He saw right through this crowd that was seeking Him for the wrong reasons and He lovingly confronted and exhorted them in the way they needed to change. When Jesus confronts your wrong motives through His Word, pay attention and respond with repentance. He’s doing it because He loves you, not to hurt you.

Second, Jesus gives spiritual food to those who seek Him properly. He could not do this if He were not God. He knows exactly what you need to grow in Him and He will give it to you when you diligently seek Him for it.

Third, Jesus is God’s only approved source of spiritual blessing. He says (6:27b), “For on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” A seal in that day authenticated a document and showed that the owner of the seal approved of it (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 359). D. A. Carson explains (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 284), “The idea is that God has certified the Son as his own agent, authorizing him as the one who alone can bestow this food.” So don’t fall prey to any false teaching that diminishes the full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Seek Him for the food that endures to eternal life.

2. Seek Jesus by the right route: by faith, not by works (6:28-29).

John 6:28-29: “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’” Their question picks up on Jesus’ command not to work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life (6:27). John Calvin explains (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 243), “By the works of God we must understand those which God demands, and of which he approves.”

Again, Jesus is using irony here. He does not mean that faith is a meritorious work on our part that somehow commends us to God. The Bible is clear that faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29). Rather, Jesus is picking up on their question about works and saying, in effect, “The only ‘work’ that you can do is not to work, but rather to believe in Me, the one whom the Father has sent to provide salvation through My death and resurrection.” As Calvin again explains (ibid., p. 245),

Now faith brings nothing to God, but, on the contrary, places man before God as empty and poor, that he may be filled with Christ and with his grace. It is, therefore, if we may be allowed the expression, a passive work, to which no reward can be paid, and it bestows on man no other righteousness than that which he receives from Christ.

Seeking to be right with God by works rather than by faith alone is probably the most common spiritual error in the world. All false religions, including some that go under the label of “Christian,” teach a works-approach to salvation. They may teach that we are saved by faith, but not by faith alone, but by faith plus works. But if that is true, then we have grounds for boasting in ourselves. And, the question is, how many works do you have to add to your faith to be saved? The Bible is clear that those who are saved by faith in Christ always produce good works as a result (Eph. 2:8-10; James 2:14-26). But it is faith in Christ alone that saves. As Paul put it (Rom. 4:4-5), “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

So to seek Jesus and the food that endures to eternal life, come to Him as a guilty, helpless sinner and trust entirely in what He did for you when He died on the cross. If you want to fly somewhere, you’ve got to entrust yourself totally to the pilot and the airplane. It would be ridiculous to insist on going into the cockpit and helping the pilot fly the plane, especially if you are not a trained pilot. Even so, it’s crazy to tell God that you’re going to help Jesus save you by your good works when He has said that He will save all that trust in Him. Don’t trust in your own good works to justify you when you stand before God someday. Rather (Acts 16:31), “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

Thus there is nothing more important to seek for in life than to seek for Jesus and the eternal life that He can give. Seek Him for the right reason: you need eternal food, not temporal food. Seek Him by the right route: by faith and not by works.

3. Seek Jesus through the right relationship: Hunger for Him to satisfy your soul (6:30-36).

These Jews, who have just the day before eaten the miraculous loaves and fish, ask Jesus an incredible question (6:30): “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?” They go on (6:31) to mention that their fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. Behind this request for a sign was the Jewish expectation that when the Messiah came, He would renew the miracle of the manna (Morris, p. 361).

So in spite of Jesus’ miraculous feeding the 20,000, they’re asking for more: Jesus fed a large crowd; Moses fed the entire nation. Jesus did it once; Moses did it for 40 years. Jesus provided ordinary bread; Moses gave them “bread out of heaven.” So they’re saying, “Okay, Jesus, you gave us a little sign. Let’s see You do a big one, like Moses did! Then we’ll believe in You!” Ryle (pp. 361-362) astutely comments,

They were always deceiving themselves with the idea that they wanted more evidence and pretending that if they had this evidence they would believe. Thousands in every age do just the same…. The plain truth is that it is lack of heart, not lack of evidence, that keeps people back from Christ.

Jesus responds by correcting them. He says (6:32-33), “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” He is saying, first, that it wasn’t Moses who gave them the manna; God did. And, second, the manna wasn’t the true bread, because people who ate it still died. But Jesus, whom God sent, gives eternal life to the world, that is, to all people everywhere who believe in Him.

The Jews’ reply focuses on the material, “Lord, always give us this bread.” (“Lord” here should properly be translated, “Sir.” They were not acknowledging Jesus to be Lord, as 6:36 makes plain. They just wanted Jesus to be their free meal ticket.) Jesus’ reply tells them who the true bread is and how to get it (6:35): “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” This is the first of seven “I am” metaphors in John (8:12; 10:7; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1). I’ll say more next time, but for now note what an astounding claim this is. Jesus is saying that He is the source of eternal life and the sustainer of that life for whoever comes to Him and believes in Him.

These Jews were satisfied with their religion and rituals that had come down to them from Moses, so they had no hunger for the living bread that Jesus offered. Before you are hungry to eat of the living bread God has to open your eyes to your true condition: Without Christ you are spiritually starving. In Christ’s day, bread was the main staple in their diet. You could not live without bread. In the same way, you cannot live eternally in the presence of the holy God without Jesus Christ. The Father sent Jesus to this world to bear the sins of all who believe in Him. Without Him, you’re under God’s righteous judgment.

“Coming to Jesus” and “believing in Jesus” are parallel here. They explain what Jesus means in 6:53 when He talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. It means to trust in Jesus’ death as the complete and final payment for your sins. Jesus says that the result of coming to Him is that we will not hunger and the result of believing in Him is that we will never thirst. This does not mean that we will not still long to know more and more of the riches of Christ. Rather, it means that when we truly believe in Jesus, we are satisfied with Him. We have all spiritual blessings in Him (Eph. 1:3). We are complete in Him (Col. 2:10).

Conclusion

Sadly, these Jews were seeking Jesus for the wrong reason: They wanted Him to provide for their material needs, but they didn’t see their spiritual needs. They sought Jesus by the wrong route: works, but not faith. They sought Him through the wrong relationship: They wanted Him to be the new Moses, the new political leader to bring in peace and prosperity, but they didn’t want to come to Him personally in faith to satisfy their spiritual hunger. Jesus states the tragic result (6:36): They had seen Him and yet they did not believe.

What are you seeking for in life? Jesus is the only one who can provide true soul satisfaction, both in this life and for eternity. But perhaps you’re seeking Jesus wrongly: You want Him to provide for your temporal needs, but you don’t sense your desperate spiritual need for Him as the living bread to give you eternal life. Even worse, maybe you aren’t seeking Jesus at all. You’re a heartbeat away from standing before God in judgment, and yet you don’t even see your desperate condition. Cry out to God to open your eyes to your greatest need. Come to Jesus and you will not hunger. Believe in Him and you will never thirst.

Application Questions

  1. How can we help unbelievers to see that their main need is for eternal life, not for temporal goods or pleasures?
  2. A Roman Catholic friend argues that James 2:14-26 proves that we must add our works to faith in order to be saved. How would you answer him? What Scriptures would you use?
  3. To do well in a demanding career, you must devote much time and effort to it. How does John 6:27 apply in this situation?
  4. Reread J. C. Ryle’s comments (pp. 3-4) on how we should labor for the food that endures to eternal life. How can you best apply his prescription?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)