The Work of God
The Work of God John 6:22-40
Last Sunday we got to see the “little faith” of Peter in action, as He walked out onto the water to meet Jesus. But when he gave way to fear, he began to sink and Jesus immediately reached out His hand catching him, and said to him “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” So, Peter and Jesus got into the boat and immediately the wind and waves stopped, AND immediately (miraculously) they were back on the other side of the lake, in Capernaum, their home base. John, in his account, lets us know what happened then upon their arrival. Let’s take a look, John 6:22-25
Jesus and His disciples landed back in Capernaum, but some of the folks from the crowd of thousands who were fed, were back on the other side of the lake, where Jesus had multiplied the bread and the fish. They were counting boats to make sure that there wasn’t another boat missing, which would indicate perhaps Jesus took it and left. They remembered the disciples had left in one boat, but Jesus hadn’t gone with them- so they were looking for Jesus to still be there - hoping perhaps to be entertained by another miracle. Then others from another town, Tiberias, came across the lake to the same place where Jesus had fed the thousands, and they joined the others in looking for Jesus. Perhaps they had heard about the miracle from the previous day, and they wanted to see what all the commotion was about. But nobody could find Him, so they all got back in boats and went to Capernaum, hoping there they would find Jesus in His most prominent location. When they found Him, they were a little perplexed as to how He got there. The night before they saw Him walk up towards the mountains as it was getting dark - surely He didn’t walk several hours while it was dark around the perimeter of the water - and as I mentioned already, they knew He hadn’t taken a boat. So, in asking “Rabbi, when did You get here?” they were just as much asking “Rabbi, how did You get here?” They were so hungry for miracles, it’s as if they could smell another miracle occurrence, and they wanted Jesus to divulge the juicy miracle details to them. But Jesus knew their hearts - that they loved the concept of a miracle more than the concept of His kingdom - and so He says to them in verse 26… (John 6:26)
Jesus didn’t answer their question. If they didn’t understand the miracle of the fish and loaves, then what good would it do them to hear about the miracle of Him walking on water? You see, this is the danger of miracles: A miracle is a sign pointing to a truth, pointing to a reality, but so often people desire and/or accept the miracle without desiring or accepting the truth that the miracle points to. As it happened in Jesus’s day, it happens still today - people enjoy benefiting from God’s goodness, without entering into a real relationship with Him. We perhaps see the signs of God, but grab onto only the temporary worldly benefits that are a result of His signs. Instead of being affected by seeing the Kingdom of God and a glimpse into the spiritual world, we rather prefer to see and desire just an immediate physical satisfaction. Natalie Grant has a song on the radio entitled “More than Anything”, and the lyric says: “Help me want the Healer more than the healing, Help me want the Savior more than the saving, Help me want the Giver more than the giving, Oh help me want you Jesus more than anything”. Those lyrics capture the reality of how easy it is to miss God in His acts of goodness. Then in verse 27 Jesus says… (John 6:27)
This verse is by no means Jesus telling those who follow Him not to work for physical needs we have in this life, the Bible here isn’t saying to quit your jobs and just read the Bible all day. Paul very sternly writes to Timothy warning the early church not to be tempted to think along these lines, he says: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8) And Paul addressed the same issue to the church in Thessalonica, he states “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12) In other words, Paul was telling the church- “work so that you can provide for yourselves!” During that time there were false teachings circulating among the early church, teachings promoting that the resurrection of God’s people had already taken place, and teachings promoting asceticism - which is the idea that one should forsake physical needs in order to fully embrace the spiritual. Paul was saying no, even as followers of Jesus, you still need to work to provide for physical needs in this world. The resurrection and full installment of the Kingdom hasn’t happened yet and yes - we are current heirs of Jesus’s Kingdom - but again, the full installment of the Kingdom hasn’t happened yet- you still need to provide for yourselves and your family. So, what is Jesus saying here?
Well, in the context, Jesus was speaking to people who had worked very hard- rowing/sailing, running back and forth from here to there, exerting lots of energy - all in hopes that Jesus might make another fish sandwich for them. He wanted them to put that much effort into gaining the spiritual food that Jesus offered, spiritual food that would lead them to eternal life. Food is necessary for life on earth, but gaining spiritual food that leads to eternal life has to be an even higher priority. Verse 28 (John 6:28)
This verse encapsulates some of the biggest, most important questions that mankind has ever asked in the history of the world. What does God require of us? What does He want me to do so that I’m doing the right works? If He is at work in this world, what do I do in order to join Him? Perhaps they were even thinking: “I’ve seen Jesus work miracles - is there work like that for me to do too? What steps do I take so that I can work miracles like that as well?” Perhaps they were thinking of certain rituals, offerings, sacrifices they could perform in order to then be granted the power of God. In the following verse 29 Jesus answered them… (John 6:29)
And this verse is one of the most monumental answers contained in the Bible. This verse states the very reason John set out to write the Book of John. Speaking of the signs Jesus performed that John recorded, John says in chapter 20:31 “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” This one verse states the goal of the whole Bible - we have this record here so that we may believe in Jesus whom God sent. The whole Bible, including all of the Old Testament, is pointing to this man Jesus. This verse 29 defines very simply what God’s work is, what He is up to, what the goal is that He wants to accomplish in all the work He does. He wants to reveal Himself and make Himself known, through Jesus. God’s whole work can be summed up in a small sentence: God is working so that you will believe in the one He sent, Jesus. He has been - and is presently working - to help mankind believe in Jesus. And we share in that work - our work is to believe!
Many have perhaps used this verse to state the ease of the Christian life, as in “You don’t have to work, you just believe - it’s that easy!” Now to a certain degree, I agree with that. Christianity is not a “do” religion, but a “done” religion. There’s nothing you can do to earn God’s favor or forgiveness. The doing part of Christianity was done by Jesus on the cross - He paid the price for us; He did what needed to be done so that we can be reconciled to God. I completely affirm that. But I, and others, would say that there is a component of faith that is work. You see, when Jesus says to believe in Him, to have faith in Him, He’s not saying to just believe in His existence. No, the people he spoke to over and over saying “believe in me”- those people didn’t question His existence, He was right there in front of them, they believed in the reality of His existence. And He wasn’t telling them to believe in His power, to believe that He could work miracles - no, people believed that He was performing miracles. They saw them with their own eyes and believed His miracles were true. By saying “believe”, Jesus is asking us to trust in Him. To place our faith and confidence completely in him, leaning into Him - knowing that He is true, trustworthy, strong, sufficient, worthy. Belief in Him requires a dependency on Him, it’s a sacrifice of our own desires, knowing that what Jesus offers is better. Belief in that way, might require some effort, some work, on our part. It’s easy for me to believe Jesus existed, history confirms that. It’s easy to believe He performed miracles, I can easily choose to trust that the gospel writers are truthful and accurate. It’s even fairly easy to believe he rose from the dead. He predicted it Himself, many eye witnesses say that’s what happened, and if it was all a made up lie - why would so many of the eye witnesses give their life over that lie? If I believe all those things, it’s also fairly easy for me to tuck all those beliefs right into my pocket and go on living just like the world, saving those beliefs for when I might need them during a difficult time of life.
And all of a sudden, I realize I’m no better than the people who were searching for Jesus because He fed them a meal. It’s easy to take those beliefs out of my pocket when I need them, to satisfy a current need - an emotional, physical, spiritual need - and once I’m satisfied, I can tuck those beliefs back into my pocket. That kind of belief is not a belief pleasing to God. No, the belief that Jesus is talking about here is a belief in Him that changes everything. That belief should guide all of my decisions, all of my words, all of my purchases, all of my thoughts - each and every day, all day, 24/7/365. And that type of belief - that type of daily faith, trust, confidence - does not come easy. It will take work on our part; it will take time to grow into that kind of belief. And from a slightly different perspective, Martin Luther, who in the 1500s called the Church to return back to the authority of the scriptures said this: "To depend on God's Word, so that the heart is not terrified by sin and death, but trusts and believes in God, is a much severer and more difficult thing than… all orders of monks demand." During that time, as hard as monks worked to discipline themselves in the things of God, Luther was saying it’s an even greater work to truly trust and believe God, not fearing sin or death, but to depend fully on God’s Word - the Bible. Truly believing in the way Jesus says to believe, is a work. Verse 30 (John 6:30-31)
These that are speaking to Jesus are the same people who just the previous day witnessed Jesus multiply the bread and fish. They saw the miracle and now are asking for another miracle in order that they might truly believe in Him. You might say, was feeding thousands of people with 5 loaves and 2 fish not enough of a miracle? Well, for the previous day it was - the crowd was completely amped up by it and were saying “this is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14) But today that is now yesterday’s news, today’s a new day - “what are going to do for us today, Jesus?” was the crowd’s attitude. Overnight skepticism had crept in, what seemed real yesterday was just foggy today, and besides, as verse 31 references - Moses gave the whole nation of Israel (some 2 million people) bread from Heaven. And it wasn’t just a single meal - no, manna was the food provided to them every day for 40 years. The people here are thinking: “Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah, who was to be greater than Moses, yet the sign that He performed was less in its scope than what Moses did.” So Jesus responds, verse 32 (John 6:32-33)
Jesus corrected them in two ways; first of all they were wrong concerning who performed the miracle - it wasn’t Moses who did the miracle - it was God who caused the manna to collect on the ground each morning for the people to gather. Secondly, they were wrong concerning which miracle had a grander scope - Jesus was saying the bigger miracle was neither the manna bread of Moses’s time nor the bread that Jesus had multiplied the previous day. The bigger miracle was that God is currently giving true bread, a better bread, a bread that gives true life to the world - and that bread is Jesus Christ Himself.
Unfortunately, the people missed what Jesus was saying as they were still thinking with their
stomachs, verse 34 says… (John 6:34-36) Here in verse 36 we are again pointed to the fact that you can believe Jesus existed and believe that He did miracles, as the people of this day saw Him and believed, but that type of belief will not satisfy hunger and thirst. You can believe to a certain degree, but the only type of real belief that Jesus is talking about is the type of belief that satisfies and gives you a right relationship with Jesus, a relationship that leads to eternal life. Verse 37 (John 6:37-40)
We just earlier defined God’s work as Him wanting us to believe in Jesus whom He sent. That is the work He is up to, and we share in that work - believing in Jesus is the work that we are to do. And here in these verses that we just read is contained the definition of why He is working in that way. These verses tell us the purpose behind His work, they define what His desire and motivation is behind the work of helping us to believe in Jesus. We defined God’s job earlier, now we get to see why He is working that job. We too define ourselves by our work, it’s often the first thing you ask someone when getting to know them, “What do you do for work?” And then once you know their work, you perhaps ask how they got into doing that, or why they chose that career and you start to hear a little bit of their motivation behind why they are working in that trade. Often, you’ll hear things like: it’s what I’ve always done, or I like the flexibility, or the people are nice and good to work with, or the benefits are great, etc. But the unspoken, real bottom line reason and motivation behind why people show up for their particular job is because they need to provide. To provide food, shelter, transportation, nice things for themselves and their family. Provision is the underlying motive. And the reason God is in the business of helping you to believe in His son Jesus- the underlying motive in that is: provision. His will is to provide you with eternal life. As a loving Father provides for his children, He is at work so that He can provide the very best for His children- and that very best is eternal life.
Jesus very clearly spells out God’s will in verses 39 and 40: His will is that of all God has given to Jesus- none would be lost, but that all would fully believe in Jesus and be raised up into eternal life. That is His will for you. That is His will for each and every one of us. To believe on Him, daily entrusting ourselves to the power and grace of God, making a full surrender of ourselves to Jesus- that is the great work that God wants to accomplish. One man said it like this: “Faith is the highest kind of work, for by it man gives himself to God, and a free being can do nothing greater than give himself”.
May your concept of “working the works” (plural) of God be narrowed down to the one, (singular) “work of God”- believing in Jesus. This work is a simpler, yet greater work - a work that is the most important work you can do in all your life. This work should encompass and bleed over into every area of your life. And this work just might take some work, it won’t necessarily come naturally. Many of you have started this work, but perhaps this morning you have been encouraged to put more energy and focus into this greater work. Perhaps there are others though that have not yet begun this work. Maybe you have been like the people we read about today, in that you believe Jesus is real and that He did miracles, but you realize today that Jesus is calling for a deeper, more real belief than the type of belief you have carried. This morning we have all heard defined God’s work and God’s will, and I’m asking that we each join Him in His work, doing the work of believing fully in Him, surrendering all to Jesus, knowing that in this we are able to receive God’s fullest provision for us - His eternal life.