Today’s post is second in a series on why some people believe and others do not. See yesterday’s Do You Believe the Impossible? to set the stage for today’s topic.
Part 1: The Spiritual Nature of Jesus' Mission.
At the end of John 6, Jesus speaks some words that show the insight He had into the minds and hearts of His hearers. He says, "But there are some of you who do not believe." And John adds the commentary, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him … From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (John 6:64,66).
What caused some of these people to walk away from Jesus and not believe in Him? The episode here in John 6 gives us several clues about their unbelief. First, let’s understand the context. Jesus had just fed over 5000 people with a little boy’s lunch (John 6:1-15). Now these same people had caught up to Jesus again on the other side of the lake, looking for more to eat. Some of the people recognized what Jesus did as being a sign that Jesus was the new deliverer, like Moses. They thought Jesus was the one who would bring them liberation from the Roman oppression, the way Moses brought deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They thought Jesus would provide food to eat that could sustain an army in battle the way God provided manna in the desert.
Jesus says to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." (John 6:26-27).
Jesus says that they've got it all wrong. There are two kinds of food: "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life." There's the bread that nourishes our physical existence, but which is doomed to perish in the end; and there's also bread that nourishes our spiritual existence which is destined to last forever.
The trouble was, these Galileans were basically materialists. They'd eaten the loaves and had their fill. They saw the economic benefits of following Jesus and had decided they were onto a good thing. But they'd completely missed the spiritual significance of what had happened. They'd seen the miracle but they’d missed the sign.
One reason many fail to believe is that they are so stuck in the material that they refuse to see the spiritual. This is especially true in 21st century America. Let's face it, we're probably more materialistic now than the people of Galilee were in Jesus' day. We certainly have more material. People spend so much time, effort and energy working for material needs and wants today to the neglect of spiritual needs. Some will follow Jesus as long it pays off in this world, but walk away if the perceived gain is not forthcoming.
So Jesus' words come to us today with renewed urgency: "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."
Jesus’ mission and message are essentially spiritual, not material. And some simply will not move beyond the material. Do you remember what Jesus said to Satan during the first of his temptations in the desert? “Man shall not live by bread alone.” or “Human beings don't need just physical bread.” There's far more to life than our material needs.
Yet there are still those who disagree; who argue that such an idea is just a way of seducing the masses; of stopping them from worrying about their real state of existence. Marx claimed that religion (especially Christianity) was the opiate of the masses, something to keep the poor happy and ignorant of the economic oppression under which they live. But according to Jesus the opposite is true. It's actually materialism that's the narcotic, which deadens us to our spiritual state.
Just listen to our politicians some time. They'll tell you that all that matters is our economic well-being. And it seems to be true doesn't it? As long as we're acquiring the latest gadget, the newest car, the toys we enjoy, we don't seem to think about the spiritual side of life. Not, that is, until we realize what a spiral we're in: where our latest purchase is never quite enough, where the appetite for more becomes insatiable, where our buying becomes a substitute for satisfying what's really a hunger for something else—for significance, for acceptance, for love, for a relationship with the living God.
Do you know unbelievers who fall into this category?The next post will examine the gracious nature of Jesus’ offer.