This is Day Eleven of Christ Church Manchester’s lent devotionals, where we are breaking down the book of John. Written by Lia Dolan.
John 6: 22 – 59:
Sometimes Jesus is depicted only as the tender-hearted Shepherd nurturing the lost sheep, the people gathered close and nestled in His bosom. But our preconceptions can cause us to miss the entirety and authority of Scripture and the ways it depicts Jesus who is our Lord and Saviour.
As C.S. Lewis describes in his beloved children’s books series, through the lion Aslan who depicts Jesus; “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”* But we so often miss this wild and untameable Jesus for the sake of our beautifully crafted boxes which contain him in our perfectly marked out expectations, dictated by our fears and preconceived ideas of what God should be like.
And so these verses begin with hoards of people, at least five thousand as we know them to be the ones Jesus fed the previous day, seeking the presence of Jesus, hungry, but for what? Jesus’ welcome of the crowds is not the response we would perhaps expect. His bluntness and knife-edged words are sharp; not what we would expect from our leaders if crowds were to flock through our church doors. But here we see Jesus’ heart for commitment and for those who are truly seeking Him. We all too often mistake success with numbers but Jesus wants those who want Him.
Jesus’ sees right through the crowds’ facade and into their hearts. He sees their seeking as a pursuit of what He can do for them, instead of a pursuit of Himself. They have witnessed His power and they are hungry for it; they have been provided for and are looking for their needs to be met again. Their hunger is steeped in selfish ambition, and there is no bowing in their hearts for their desperate need for a Saviour. Humility is far from them, and so despite being face to face with what they really desire and need, they miss it.
How often do our prayers align more with our flesh, or our selfish desires, or with seeking indulgence instead of Him? We so often speaking out lies, becoming so terribly distracted, that we miss out on the season God has so carefully crafted out before us by His grace and goodness. What if these men who had seen something in Jesus had opened up their hearts to His rebuke and received His message for themselves?
But Jesus is not without heart. Indeed, He is not dismissive of those who have flocked to Himself. Despite exposing the motives of their hearts, He gives them the answer to life and offers Himself to them again and again. He is patient and kind to those who have sought Him out, despite knowing the truth of their ever seeing but never perceiving, ever hearing but never understanding (Mark 4:12). He even describes Himself as what they have sought Him after, ‘the bread of life’, such is His heart for people, promising a quenching of thirst and the satisfaction of hunger forevermore.
He reveals the glory set before those who will receive Him, He gives them opportunity after opportunity to respond. If they were not so intent on seeking what they wanted, would they now be rejoicing in heaven, having lived lives so full of wonder and joy? If they were not so fixed on getting what they thought they needed, would they have missed it?
The religious leaders amongst the crowds became consumed by their own minds and intent on understanding instead of receiving with humility the grace set before them. They stand blinded by the competition they have set up between each other. Is this a fight for intellect; for position; for looking good; for being esteemed; for knowledge or understanding? And what for?
Perhaps, just perhaps if they also had not been so preoccupied with themselves, frustrated at their own lack and ability, with a jealousy proved by their dissensions, they would have seen what was being offered, who Jesus was and what He was proclaiming. All too often are we not also guilty of becoming consumed with this world and ourselves that we miss out on what is really being said and offered through ‘the bread of life’?
Finally, Jesus gives another twist and sharp turn in our hearts by His Word, promised to penetrate bone and marrow (Hebrews 4:12). Jesus states that we must eat of Him in order to have life, indeed to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Perhaps, in light of the cross, this is easier to stomach; but here with no fore view of the cross, these words would have been incredibly difficult to swallow. And further, Jesus does not seek to appease the crowds or explain the meaning behind this appearingly monstrous statement. Indeed even as later many turn away and desert Him Jesus does not call them back and smother His sharp words.
Again as with the beginning of this passage, despite the beauty of His tenderness, grace and patience towards the people, we see that Jesus is not consumed with numbers. His concern is with the devout, with those who will stand by His side and walk in step with Him when they don’t understand, when His words puncture deeply, with no selfish motives and with a humble recognition of their steadfast need of Him as their daily bread.
But in return the promises He gives are great; the promise of eternal life, of works which last eternity, of life as we live in the world, of full satisfaction, of embrace from the Father who loves us deeply, of esteem on the last day, of never dying, of a love that is proven in the furnace of giving His life for the world – all steeped in a simple belief in Himself. Incredible.
‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’ (Matthew 16:25).
*Lewis, C. S., and Pauline Baynes. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York, NY: HarperTrophy, 1994.
Written by:Andy Dowdeswell