Christianity 201

May 14, 2012

Seeking Earnestly

Today’s devotional find is Carl Gobelman’s blog, A New Creation, where these thoughts appeared today under the title, Truly Seeking Jesus.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26-27)

Some of the more potent sayings from Jesus of Nazareth come from the closing words of the famous Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14). This passage depicts all of humanity on either one of two roads: The wide road that leads to destruction or the narrow road that leads to life. In fact, most of the sayings at the end of this sermon serve to differentiate true followers of Christ from false followers of Christ. What makes this difficult is that it’s often the case that one cannot readily discern the true from the false followers easily. False followers refer to Jesus as “Lord” (their doctrine is right) and they do many things in his name (their actions are right), yet Jesus will turn them away by saying “I never knew you” (they didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ).

The truth of the matter is that there are no shortage of people who admire and seek to follow Jesus, but they aren’t truly seeking Jesus. Today’s passage from John’s gospel illustrates this phenomenon. The context of the passage is Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. After the miraculous feeding, Jesus and his disciples travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When the crowd that was fed the day before realized that Jesus went to the other side of the sea, they proceeded to follow him. When they find him, the crowd said to Jesus, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus responds with the passage cited above. Note three things about Jesus’ initial response to the crowd:

  1. Jesus correctly diagnoses their true intent
  2. Jesus negatively exhorts them
  3. Jesus positively exhorts them

Jesus begins by correctly diagnosing their true intentions. The crowd wasn’t following Jesus because of the signs and wonders he was performing, but because they were fed to the full by Jesus. In other words, they didn’t want Jesus, but they wanted what Jesus could do. If you’re a follower of Jesus, why are you following him? Are you seeking Jesus or what Jesus can do for you? How many Christians come to Jesus for life improvement? Having problems in your marriage? Come to Jesus and he’ll help you have a successful marriage. Having problems making ends meet financially? Come to Jesus and he’ll help you manage your finances. The problem with all of this is that Jesus becomes a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

Of course, people who are seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons aren’t completely to blame. For many years now, Christianity has been marketed as relevant for meeting the needs of 21st century people. People don’t want to hear boring doctrine, but want a Christianity that meets their felt needs and helps them navigate the travails of life (at least that’s what we’re told from the slick marketers of contemporary evangelicalism). If Christ is preached as a means to an end rather than the end itself, then all you’re doing is creating shallow (and false) followers of Christ.

Secondly, Jesus negatively exhorts them by telling them not to labor for food that perishes. One of the great roadblocks to truly seeking and following Jesus is our propensity for being bound up in earthly desires (represented by Jesus as “food that perishes”). In the well known Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), Jesus illustrates one of the false converts as the seed that landed in the week-choked soil. When it sprouted, it was choked by the weeds and died before bearing fruit. Jesus explains to his disciples that this represents the man who receives Jesus joyfully, but the cares of the world choke the life out of the person and he ends up falling away. Following Jesus is not easy. For many it means losing friends and family, for others it means losing wealth and status, and for some it may even mean imprisonment or death. If we’re more concerned with the cares of this world, then we’re not following Jesus.

Of course, it’s not enough to negatively exhort someone without also positively exhorting them. If we’re not to labor for the food that perishes, then what are we to do? Jesus continues, “[Labor] for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus will, of course, go on to say that HE is the bread of life (John 6:35). The food that endures to eternal life is Jesus himself! The Bible continually exhorts us to seek after the eternal, not the temporal; the imperishable, not the perishable; the spiritual, not the physical. As it pertains to our discussion, we need to seek Jesus, not the blessings he bestows. This is not an either/or exhortation, but a both/and. If we seek Jesus, we get the blessings he bestows as well. What does Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount? “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). However, if all we seek are the blessings Jesus bestows, we get neither Jesus nor the blessings.

Jesus concludes this passage by saying, “For on him God the Father has set his seal.” The seal being referred to here is God’s seal of approval. That Jesus is the Son of God is authenticated by his miraculous signs. The feeding of the 5,000 corroborated that Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah. Jesus never performed a miracle that was superfluous. They all pointed to his redeeming work as Messiah — bringing sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and making the lame walk all point to Christ restoring creation to its original design; a reversing of the effects of the fall. Yet the people that followed Christ to the other side of the sea were more interested in the sign that what the sign pointed to. This is a danger that some Christian traditions that over emphasize spiritual gifts run into; they’re more interested in the gifts than the giver of the gifts.

Bottom Line: It’s not enough to seek Jesus. It’s not enough to admire Jesus. It’s not enough to even follow Jesus if we’re not seeking, admiring or following for the right reasons. Jesus is not a life coach who will help you be a better you. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords! His signs and miracles point to that reality, yet we labor so hard in this life to make this life more bearable. Rather we should seek Jesus because he’s gateway to eternal life! He’s the REAL FOOD that leads to eternal life, not the perishable food of this world. Seek Jesus as he really is, not as some life improvement solution, but Son of God upon whom the Father has set his seal of approval.

~Carl Gobelman