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.
"So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” - John 6:30-31
“Who has been sent?” would have been the next logical question to Jesus’ response in v. 29, but instead the crowds ask “What sign are you going to give us?” Given this question and their own confession in v. 14, we can know that the crowds already know who has been sent, and that this one is indeed Jesus. So why continue in this manner?
The answer is simple. They’re trying to trick Jesus into make bread. A ridiculous request given that Jesus had just done this exact same miracle for them earlier (John 6:1-15). Their motives are laid clear by Jesus’ evaluation earlier (as discussed in part 1), but their suggestive tone in these verses jumps right off of the page. Here is a paraphrase of their argument:
“Oh, so we should believe you’ve been sent from God? Could you prove that? Maybe by making a little bread. You see, God made bread for us one time, and that would pretty much seal the deal for us believing in you if you were to do that.”
This exchange may seem laughable in context because Jesus already fed them with miraculously multiplied bread, but we often do the same when we talk with Jesus. We dangle whether we will believe or not in front of Jesus, as an incentive to get him to do what we want. It may be a relative or friend on the brink of death who needs healing, favor with a stressful event such as a test, or a promotion or new job we seek that we use, but the threat is clear: “Only if this event goes my way will I be able to unreservedly believe in and follow you, Jesus.”
When we behave in this way, when we threaten to leave based on conditions we set, we insult what Jesus has already done for us, mocking the salvific work and power of the cross and resurrection.
Talking with Jesus can have no bargaining. For us to bargain denies his position as Lord of our life, ignores the plight of sin in which we exist, and exalts our needs over those of the Kingdom of God of which we are citizens. It is for that reason that Jesus refuses to engage in it (see the vv. 32-40). Negotiating in this way leaves us empty handed–both of our demands and of our faith in Jesus when he tells us “No.”
We must resolve to resist make such demands in our conversations, otherwise these dialogues will never get us anywhere just as with the crowds here. Instead, we should approach in humility on the basis of His finished work, in trust that he will not put on us more than we can bear, and in faith that he will give us the strength to see us through whatever we face.