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20230507 Will Your Work Last?

John 6:22-29 NET.

22 The next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the lake realized that only one small boat had been there, and that Jesus had not boarded it with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 But some boats from Tiberias came to shore near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. 27 Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life — the food which the Son of Man will give to you. For God, the Father has put his seal of approval on him.” 28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires — to believe in the one whom he sent.”

I like to read mysteries. I get caught up when the sleuth tries to figure out what happened, why it happened, and who done it. We have been going through the stories about Jesus in the Gospels, looking at the commands that Jesus gave. Today’s passage contains another command in the context of the aftermath of the feeding of the 5000.

None of the Gospel authors identifies any of the crowd that had been fed beside the seashore by name. But from today’s text, I can tell you the names of some of those people. Sherlock Holmes was among them, along with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. They had a mystery on their hands, and they were trying to put all the facts together to solve that mystery. If Perry Mason was in that crowd, then Earl Stanley Gardner would entitle this story “The Case of the Missing Messiah.”

Here are the facts of the case. Jesus and his disciples had been involved in preaching to a large crowd. In the process of their ministry, somehow a huge meal had been provided for that crowd of thousands. No one in that crowd doubted that a miracle had taken place. Nobody argues with a full stomach. That wasn’t the mystery that the crowd was trying to solve. The mystery they were trying to solve was what happened next. Witnesses had been on the beach when a small boat carrying the twelve disciples set off in the direction of the city of Capernaum. Those witnesses verified that Jesus did not enter that boat.

Consequently, the crowd assumed that Jesus would be available for them the next day. The mystery began the next day when a careful search was done, and no Jesus was to be found. John tells us that…

The crowd was working hard trying to find Jesus (22-25).

The disciples had left, but all the evidence showed that Jesus was still there somewhere. The previous day they had been fed so well that naturally, they were in the mood for a repeat performance. But they looked all over, and they could not find Jesus anywhere. Poirot put his little gray cells to work but found nothing. Sherlock wore out his pipe trying to figure it out.

I wish that people would try just as hard today to find Jesus for any reason. We seem to live in a world that is trying hard to lose Jesus. Christmas is about a dude in a red suit. Easter is about a bunny. Instead of waiting for the second coming, our world seems to be trying hard to erase all the signs of his first coming.

So, I applaud this crowd because at least they were looking for Jesus. But the trouble was that it would not have mattered how hard they tried because Jesus was not where they were looking. Here is a message for this secular world today. They need to know that Jesus is not where they are looking. He’s not in the drugs. He’s not in loose morals. He’s not in the rebranding of sin – calling it a choice and demanding the right to choose it. John tells us that…

They were working for their needs to be satisfied (26b).

Jesus had fed them once. For once, they had eaten all they wanted. They never forgot that. They were hungry again. So, they thought all they needed to do to get another miraculous meal is to find the Rabbi.

Penny and I work at the food bank on a regular basis. We gather with a large group of workers from several churches. After the food items arrive, we put them out on tables to distribute to each car as it drives up. When we have everything set up, we all hold hands and pray. We pray for the safety of everyone involved. We pray that we will work with a cheerful attitude. We pray to meet the needs of those who show up in the line. But most of all we pray that those who receive the items might know that we are doing this because of Jesus.

We are from various churches, but we all know that we want to do more than just sit in our churches and proclaim the gospel to each other. We want to demonstrate Jesus’ love by what we do. The church is called to a ministry of proclamation. But the Church is also called to a ministry of demonstration.

That is what was going on here. When Jesus fed the 5000, he was demonstrating his power. He showed the crowd that he cared about them, and he wanted to meet their needs. But now he was giving them an opportunity to pursue him further. He had another lesson to teach. John tells us that…

Jesus told them to work for food that will last forever (27).

The crowd finally noticed that Jesus was not there, and figured out that he must have gone back to Capernaum by some other means. They pursued Jesus until they found him. But when they found him, Jesus challenged them to look for something else besides their next meal.

The problem with food is that no matter how much you eat, you will eventually get hungry again. Even if the food is from a fancy and expensive restaurant, you’ll still get hungry again. Food sustains our lives. But there has never been a food item that sustains us so well that we never need any food ever again.

So, when Jesus told them to work for “the food that remains to eternal life” he was not talking about physical food, and he was not talking about this physical life. We all have a certain number of days to live. Food can help to sustain this physical life, but it cannot sustain us permanently. But Jesus was waking these people up to the reality that another life is available.

He told them to work for food that will last forever. Later in the chapter, Jesus explains what he meant:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves.       The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:51-54 NET).

The crowd came looking for Jesus to get some more bread. But Jesus used that opportunity to teach them something about himself. There is food that will last. Don’t waste your entire life looking for the wrong bread – working for the wrong food. That physical food is good. But you have a need that cannot be filled by that physical food. You need a body that will not wear out, and a mind that will not deteriorate.

Someday, you are going to be sleeping in one of those graves out there in the cemetery. When that happens, it won’t matter how big a house you had. It won’t matter how fashionable your clothes were. It won’t matter how much you ate or how good it tasted. No, your days of tasting that physical bread will be over. On that day when you lie silent in your grave awaiting the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call, the only thing that is going to matter is whether you worked for the bread of life. But John tells us that…

That food cannot be earned — it must be received by faith (28-29).

The crowd said to Jesus, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires — to believe in the one whom he sent.”

When Adam sinned in the garden, God told him that “cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). Ever since then, we have been working the ground so that it can give us the physical bread and vegetables and fruit we need to sustain our physical bodies, our temporary lives. But there is no work that we can do to produce bodies that will never die. That work could only be done by the Son of Man. He had work that only he was qualified for. God sent him to accomplish that work, and he accomplished it once and for all.

Now, there is some work that I can do that you cannot do. There is some work that you can do that I cannot do. But there is something that you and I and every other human being on this planet can do. We all have the capacity to believe in Jesus. God has given each of us that capacity and that is all we need to receive this promised eternal life. That food cannot be earned — it must be received by faith.

The apostle Paul put it this way: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).

Now for many, there comes a time when they must stop working for the bread they eat. But if we have time enough to repent of our sins and confess Christ as our Savior, we still have access to that eternal life he promised. The trouble is, so many are content to work their lives away seeking the food that doesn’t last.

God has done the sending. Christ has done the saving. The only thing he asks you and me to do is believe him. Accept his work by faith and someday when those graves are opened, you and I can wake up to eternal life. Believing in Jesus is the only work that will last.