Power, Purpose and Person | James Stevenson
Jesus feeds the five thousand
1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’
10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Jesus walks on the water
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realised that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
Jesus the bread of life
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’
26 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’
28 Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’
29 Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’
30 So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’
32 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
34 ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’
35 Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ 42 They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”?’
43 ‘Stop grumbling among yourselves,’ Jesus answered. 44 ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life.49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’
53 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.’ 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Many disciples desert Jesus
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’
70 Then Jesus replied, ‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!’ 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
Power, Purpose and Person
So what is his purpose? Jesus tells the people that the work of God is to believe in the one he sent. In its English translation, that sounds like we must give intellectual assent to Jesus. But actually what John wrote in Greek meant something more like ‘completely surrender’ to Jesus – stake everything you have, on him.
Many of his disciples found it all too hard, and left him. Whereas Peter saw that there was nowhere else to go. They had staked their lives on Jesus because, ‘You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’
When we surrender to Jesus, he comes and lives in us and changes us, pursuing his purpose. That’s why evangelism is so important: to tell others who God is and what he wants to do in their lives. But while some churches focus on this, others turn away from evangelism, working instead on social justice, and wonder why God is not moving powerfully. The division is resolved, when people realise that they can’t do the works of God effectively without talking about him. Discovering that God’s power follows God’s purposes leads us to discover who God is.
We discover that this is not a distant God. He has come and lived our life, suffered like us and more, being crucified and raised from the dead to new life. Our faith is in Jesus, sent from the Father, who when he returned to the Father then sent his Spirit to his people to fill us. This understanding is crucial to our lives as Christians. Father, Son and Spirit: that is who God is, living in a relationship of love for all eternity and we become part of that eternal relationship, because the Father sent Jesus to rescue and transform us.
We live in a culture that believes all sorts of things about God, so we must be careful not to simply accept what are cultural assumptions. For example, people over 40 must be careful not to read God through a political mindset. Jesus did not belong to a political party! While people under 40 must be aware that post-modernism would have us simply see God as a lovely rescuer who will make our lives better.
We all have to take a step back and realise that above all, God is holy. In the person of Jesus we can see a transformed life of holiness, and with his Spirit living in us that transformed life of holiness can be ours. Our culture says it’s OK to believe what you like. But as Christians we have received the faith of Christ crucified. If we get this wrong, we will misunderstand who God is, and that will lead us to misunderstand his purposes and question his power.
When we see God as he truly is, holy and undivided for all eternity, then we can grasp what his purposes are – to send the Son and the Spirit that we might live a new life as new creations, part of his love relationship and doing what we need to do through the power of God in our lives.