Questions from the Crowd
Focus: Jesus is the bread of life.
Function: that the hearers would ask the right questions, to get right answers.
Questions, questions questions. Does anyone have any questions? One of my undergraduate professors, Kermit Radcliffe, would start every lecture that same way. Because, he taught, “The Bible” a class where you had to read through vast swaths of scripture and come to class for discussion. He said, “The more you read the Bible, the more questions you’re gonna have.”
Today and for the next three weeks, we will be jumping from the gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John. From the feeding of the five thousand and the calming of the storm as Jesus walks on the water, we’re on the far side of the sea of Galilee where the same crowd that Jesus just had compassion on has pursued Jesus across the lake, and here Jesus has an extended dialog with them. We study together the questions of the crowd, then from the Jews, and finally from the disciples. Today, we look at three questions that the crowd asked Jesus, and how (if at all) Jesus answered them.
But first, let me tell you of one of the manliest things I’ve ever done. I dry-walled a room in my house. You see, when the house was first built almost a hundred years ago, the style was nail strips of wood between joists and then cover that wood with plaster. Over the years… the plaster, coming apart, would separate from the lathe, and our trustees had done their faithful job of patching up cracked plaster. But, as the years lengthened, the problems got worse and the cracks that had been spackled would crack again until I have a two foot crack in my wall that’s held apart by the weight of the spackle. And the only solution was to take out the plaster and to re-dry wall the room… Here’s the point of the story: now the spackle makes it worse and the problem needed to be taken down to its core.
Question #1 from the crowd: When did you get here? The crowds, breathless from scooting across the lake they look a little bit like the guy who’s waiting for a girl. You know, he’s waiting in the same spot at the same time every day, just so that he can “casually” bump into her and ask her, “Oh, hi, do you come here often.” You can see the crowd huffing and puffing, and then casually coming up to Jesus and saying, “Oh Hi, Jesus how’s it going today?”
Notice what Jesus says to them. He doesn’t answer their question; he answers the question they should have asked. As William Barclay writes, Jesus cuts through all the niceties, to get to the heart of their problem. He reveals to them their inner motivations. He says, “You are here, not even because I did a miracle, but just because you filled your bellies.” As John Piper would say, “You are fixated on the product, not the person.”
It’s like those who come to our church only to be married, like those who come to church only for baptisms, only for funeral service, only for the food shelf, only to rent this space. But it isn’t just for those out there. I find myself falling into this trap. It has been proven that meditation and prayer have positive physiological effects. It is well known that when you have a stable routine that includes quiet time in church that toddlers do their toddling better. It weekly improves my marriage for me to confess my sins publicly to someone other than my wife. Those are all good things, yes… But the real reason to go to church, to read your bible, to be a Christian, isn’t the bread we reap in this world, it isn’t the physiological,, psychological, social, or relational advice we reap, it is that we get to know our savior. … Jesus gives the right answers even when we ask the wrong questions. He says, “Work for food that endures. All the other stuff will perish. But the food that endures, the Son of man gives it to you from the Father.”
So then, we get to question #2. The crowd asks, What must we do? If we’re supposed to work, then what work are we supposed to do?
This question seems to come from a sincere place in the crowd’s heart. If this is true, then what do we do?!? It’s the same question of the Rich young ruler, to who Jesus said, and you remember, sell everything that you own and follow me, and the rich young ruler. It’s the same question that would burn in my heart as a college student when I heard sermons that touched my heart. Yeah, but what am I supposed to do? But first, notice that the only word from Jesus’ response they catch on to is “work.”
And then notice Jesus’ response. He says, “Believe.” That is to say, the works of God are in fact the works that God does. The way to be saved is for someone else to save you. Pastor Griffin put it this way: “The one work that God requires you to do is actually a work of God.” As Paul says in Romans chapter four, you are saved the same way that our Father Abraham was saved – by faith in the coming savior Jesus. The only thing you “have to do” - and the words “have to do” even break our English language – is believe that God has done it already.
C.S. Lewis writes like this in his book The Last Battle. After Narnia is destroyed, those who are left are visited by the Lion Aslan, in whom some believe and others do not. Some look around and see the world that Aslan was re-creating, and others see only the remnants of a destroyed world and thus they cannot see the riches that Aslan put before them. “You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” They are in prison, yes, and their prison is their own mind.
In this, Lewis restates much the same truth of Jesus in our text: to have salvation, we must only believe that we are already saved, that God has already saved us. That is the salvation won on the cross 2,000 years ago. Your sins today and for your lifetime were paid for once and for all on the cross of Christ. Your sins were washed away in the baptism that happened before you could understand it. In the real and mysterious presence of the Lord, the sins you admit to and the sins that you have not uncovered are stolen from your soul in the proclamation of absolution. To have salvation, we must only believe that works of God are in fact, God’s work.
Question #3: What sign would you give? How can we prove you? The crowd challenges Jesus again, revisiting and refining its first question and Jesus says, “Look, the bread your fathers received wasn’t from Moses, but from God. It was God gave that bread, and it is God who gives the true bread from heaven. I am that true bread.”
The true bread from heaven is the person of Jesus, God incarnate, walking among them. The living water goes thirsty on the cross. The strong man of the universe hangs weak on the cross. And yet it isn’t the cruel callousness of Roman execution that makes him cry out in pain; it isn’t lack of food and water that make him stumble on the path to Golgotha; it is instead the deep loneliness of separation from God, the deep cracks of loneliness that we would spackle over with so much of this world’s bread. This is what he took from you. This is what makes him cry out.
As often as I preach the word of God, that often do I hear God speaking to me in this place. As often as broken men and women hear the words of Institution and eat bread and drink wine, so often does the true bread from heaven come down into our midst. As often as the great and many benefits of this place attract others for the wrong reasons, so often do we have the opportunity to see the word of God do what the word of God did on the edge of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum: change questions, break barriers, and walk among us. As often as the people of God come back to the altar of God so often does God do what they do not deserve. He heals them. He saves them. And on top of that he gives them heaps and piles and loads of blessings, not only for the next life but for this also.
Today and this weekend, we celebrate the life of a man among us who has shepherded God’s flock here at Trinity for 25 years, and that is something worth celebrating. But know this: the reason it is worth celebrating is because as much as Pastor Griffin might know your names, that is the corner of how God in heaven knows you utterly and intimately. As much as Pastor Griffin has cried with you over the years, that is a taste of how much more God has suffered with you in your grief. For as much as Pastor Griffin has faithfully and humbly led this church, let know that God would turn our eyes to how much more faithful and humble and strong and kind and gentle is our Savior in heaven. If we would give thanks for this man, let us give thanks at how small of a picture this would give us of a God who can fill our ever need in his time.
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