Conversing with Jesus | Part 3
John 6 contains a powerful narrative that gives great insight into the most testified sign of his ministry: the feeding of the 5,000. The account here is unique from the other gospels because it records Jesus’ post-miracle conversation with the crowd on the other side of the lake. Over the next several posts, we will be diving deeper into the fallout between Jesus and the crowd in that exchange. Studying this can inform and improve our own conversations with Jesus.
"Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’"Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." John 6:28-29
These two verses encapsulate two ways from which people approach Christianity. On the one hand, there is the perspective of the crowd, who see it as obtaining a secret formula to unlock access to all the objects of their desire. On the other hand is Jesus’ vision: a simple belief in himself. Because humans have an innate desire to prove themselves, we may often experience the pull of the crowd’s approach in our lives.
As Jesus has already established in verse 26 they followed for the physical benefit of the food, not the spiritual reality to which that food points (they themselves confess this later in John 6:30-31, to be discussed in part 4). When we examine the language that they use, we clearly understand what the group means by “works of God.”
The crowd’s choice of word for “works” (ἔργρον) betrays that they only had an interest in the physical effects of what was to be done. They did not care about what the work would mean about Jesus or the Kingdom of God—they only cared about their bellies being filled.
If they had cared about the significance and not just the benefit, they would have used the word “sign” (σημεἰα -a favorite of John, see John 6:2, 14, 26, 30 in this chapter alone). A “sign” is a miracle, and a “work” to be sure, but it is less concerned with the benefit to the physical person (the multiplication of bread to fill stomachs) and more concerned with the reality behind that sign (only the Son of God could multiply bread like this).
At issue in this first approach is a transactional view of the relationship: what do I have to do to get what I want. To this Jesus responds that obeying him does not require our efforts, but rather our belief.
.... obeying him does not require our efforts, but rather our belief.
Looking closely at how we talk with Jesus can expose which approach dominates our beliefs about the Christian life. Do we treat our conversations with Jesus as some advanced Spiritual input-output machine? Are they preoccupied with the fulfillment of our needs and wants rather than seeking to deepen our relationship and understand His desires? No relationship, with God or another human, will be healthy if the answer to either of these questions is “yes”.
Indeed, asking for what we need is a part of this relationship. Great prayers of the Bible do this: see Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37:15-20, Elijah’s prayer in 1 Kings 18:36-37, and even Jesus’ prayer in John 11:41-43. However, prayer should never be about what we can get out of it like a magic formula. Instead, all of our talk with Jesus–whether praise, inquisition, accusation, request, or otherwise–should have the goal of affirming our belief in him, his power, and authority. If we successfully keep the correct focus in our prayers, we will find that all our other desires are also given to us (Matthew 6:33). More importantly, if we keep this focus, we realize that Jesus has heard our prayers and saves our souls is better than any physical benefit we could have received.