Last week in Cor Deo we were looking at John 6. It is one of Jesus’ great moments. In a rare glimpse of ministry up north (rare for John), Jesus has impressed the crowds with a mighty Moses-like miracle. Unlike the tension he faces down south in Judea, Jesus is a bit of star in Galilee. So much so that they are starting to move towards making him their new king!
But Jesus didn’t go for the fame option. I suppose it is a bit strange, since he was meant to be the king over the Jews in the line of David. Still, perhaps he perceived an issue in them that made this golden opportunity seem less than ideal? Perhaps he perceived their political ambitions didn’t match his own and that he was something of a pawn in their great popular revolt?
Actually the indications in the passage do point to their perceiving who he was. He was the Prophet that had been expected since the time of Moses (the miracle-bread leader). And the next day, despite his slipping away from them, they keep pursuing him as the crowd grows ever bigger. Maybe this was the moment to make his move and claim a throne? Not at all.
When Jesus finally interacts with the crowd again, it is an abject disaster from a PR point of view. He rebukes them for wanting his benefits and chasing after a free meal (which was no common occurrence in their world). He urges them to lift their expectations beyond filled stomachs to eternal life. He points them beyond Moses to God in heaven who has now sent Jesus to them.
They wanted Jesus to be like Moses and give them bread. Jesus instead took on the role of the bread and wanted them to be united to him. He used a shocking image to shake them from their pursuit of self-serving benefits. Jesus was no benefits delivery man, he wanted to be far closer than that.
It is important to not impose a communion table understanding on this passage. Jesus isn’t saying remember me; he is saying consume me, be united to me. He is shocking them and trying to stir their perspective beyond their deathly-glare into the mirror of their own needs.
This is not just an obscure incident in one corner of one gospel. The New Testament speaks, time and again, of the richness of union with Christ, of relationship with God, of having His Spirit in us, of being in Christ and He in us. Yet our tendency will naturally be the same as theirs was in John 6. With our gaze fixed on ourselves we will look to Jesus as one who can offer us benefits, one who can serve our history-long pursuit of godlike status. After all, he can give us eternal life, and a nice heaven, and help us avoid hell, and bless our lives here on earth and so on.
Too much of contemporary Christianity does not see the self-absorbed orientation of our own hearts. Too much of contemporary Christianity keeps God conveniently distant, only coming close to carry benefits to us at our bidding. He is the powerful servant who can do what we cannot and deal with the question of our eternal destiny. But we remain firmly seated on the throne of our own god-like status.
Too much contemporary evangelism fails to recognize the depth of the sin problem. Of course, we have failed and fallen short (shall we say 49 out of 50), and since there is a legal consequence in place, we need help to avoid the penalty of that. But if our evangelism simply offers a mechanism by which we can pursue our own best interests, maybe we are missing an ingredient or two. And maybe we are all at 0 out of 50, no matter how good we think we have been!
Too much contemporary church life affirms sanctified versions of self-centred living. After all, if my behaviour conforms to the accepted standards in church world, then shall we overlook the issue of motivation? For instance, I can continue to receive many benefits in church world if I live a certain way, but will suffer personally if I choose to pursue certain more overt sins. So my sanctified selfishness is acceptable?
Jesus shocked the crowds that seemed so ripe for revival. He had not come to offer them benefits. He had come to give them himself. Somehow we need to allow that shock to stir our hearts out of their self-absorption and into a responsiveness to him. In the gospel God does something profoundly wonderful in changing the very core orientation of our hearts.
David knew about the Lord’s benefits. And David knew about the Lord. This is why he didn’t say, “Bless me, O my God, as I forget none of your benefits!” Instead he cried, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” David’s heart orientation was not toward self, but toward God. That is what the gospel does to us – it draws us from self into a relationship infinitely more wonderful, a God infinitely more delightful, and a life infinitely more, well, alive.