What is your source of satisfaction? When you think of being satisfied, what craving or hunger in particular is it that is being met? We can say that someone is a satisfied customer. We can say that someone’s level or degree of work is satisfactory. When someone has met all of the requirements for something, those requirements are said to be satisfied. But what I think of most often when I think of the work satisfied is the feeling I have at the end of a filling meal.
For many people in the world a full stomach is either quite rare or entirely a pipe dream. The very idea of being able to eat until you are satiated or full is ludicrous. There simply isn’t that much food to go around. If someone is lucky or particularly blessed, there might not be any hunger pangs left after the food is gone. At least for a while.
The majority of the world’s diet comes from three grains: rice, maize (corn), and wheat. These are literally the bread (and butter) that gives 60% of the calories that sustain all of the work and energy that nearly 7 billion people on this earth require each and every day. You could say, then, that bread is literally life. Because more than half of life’s energy comes from the very grains used to make bread. So it is particularly fitting that Jesus chooses bread as a metaphor to describe himself in John 6.
The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is one of those amazing and astounding chapters. First, Jesus takes a boy’s lunchbag, empties the contents, asks God to bless them, and proceeds to fill a crowd of 5,000 men – plus their women and children. Not just a snack, mind you, but everyone present ate their fill at the fish ‘n’ bread buffet, and then the disciples, in a new role as busboys, still collected a dozen baskets full of leftover pieces after the crowd had had all they could eat.
In this one miracle Jesus satiated the hunger of a whole crowd of people. Some of them may never have experienced a full stomach before that day. And Jesus had given it to them.
After eating their fill of the bread that Jesus had provided, the crowds became so enamored with him that they determined to make Jesus their king by the force of their own might. Jesus, however, “withdrew again to the mountain by himself,” as verse 15 says. The disciples left at evening and got on boats in order to cross the sea over to Capernaum. Jesus was not with them, as he was still at the mountain by himself. Three or four miles away from shore, with a strong wind and rough waves, in the middle of the night, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea near the boat. Jesus got on board, and then they arrived at the side of the sea where they were headed.
So here, in this one chapter, Jesus takes one boy’s small lunch and feeds a crowd that could easily have numbered 12,000 or more. Then, after disappearing for the afternoon, he walked on water to the boat that was already well across the sea from where they had left him the previous night.
Now the crowd that had been satisfied with the miraculous food was well aware that Jesus had not gotten on the boat with the other disciples before they had left. They were also aware that there were no other boats on which Jesus could have climbed aboard. When they realized that Jesus was no longer on the shore with them, they climbed aboard other boats that had made their way to that spot and went over to Capernaum to see if they could find Jesus, now known as the miraculous bread giver.
That brings us to the section that we are examining today. And the theme for this section comes at the very end of verse 24 where, at least in the English Standard Version I am reading from, the last two words describe the intent of the crowd. They are “seeking Jesus.” The crowd ate, spent the night, and then gathered on boats to cross the sea and find Jesus in Capernaum. They were pretty intent on this task to go through all of that trouble.
So our first thought when hearing that the crowd was seeking Jesus is that probably that this is a good thing. A whole crowd is seeking Jesus. A crowd that wants to make him their king. A crowd that wants him to keep on doing what he has been doing. After all, wouldn’t we love to see such a crowd assemble in downtown Altavista? How great would it be to find a large gathering of people that want to find Jesus and are willing to go to great lengths in order to do so?
Seeking Jesus is a good thing. God promised in Jeremiah that those who seek him with all of their hearts will certainly find him. Jesus said the words, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you.” And before that, Jesus commanded us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Seeking is something that we are supposed to do. Seeking, especially seeking God and Jesus, are good things.
But there was something drastically wrong about the crowd and the seeking that the crowd was doing. It turns out that there is a right seeking and a wrong seeking. It is possible to seek the right thing in the wrong way, and therefore to be seeking wrongly. It is just as bad to do this kind of seeking as it is to seek the wrong thing the right way or the wrong thing the wrong way: they are all wrong ways of seeking.
So what was wrong with the way that the crowd was seeking Jesus? He addressed that directly in verse 26. “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.’” What’s Jesus saying here? Think back to the crowd. Think about the events that John had recorded here in John 6. Jesus had done several signs before that: water into wine at the wedding at Cana, he healed the son of an official – without going to the official’s house, he healed a paralytic at the Pool of Bathesda who had been an invalid for 38 years. All of these things Jesus had already done, and they were certainly being talked about in the region. Then there were the events we talked about earlier: feeding five thousand men, plus their women and children, on the plate of a boy that contained five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Then, he disappeared onto the water and arrived at Capernaum by boat when the crowd knew for certain that he hadn’t gotten on the only boat that he would have been able to travel on prior to its departure with his disciples.
These were the signs. John even particularly enumerates the signs that he does both at Cana and in the healing of the official’s son. They were keeping track. They were keeping track because these signs had weight; they had import; they had gravitas. The signs pointed to something. The crowds knew that no ordinary man could accomplish the things that Jesus was accomplishing. No random power could bring about the feats and wonders that the crowds were seeing, living, and experiencing.
These signs were just that: signs that were pointing the people to a particular direction, a particular conclusion. Based on these things that Jesus was doing, the crowds should easily be able to ascertain who Jesus is. And they should be able to do it even entirely apart from the words of John the Baptist proclaiming and exalting Christ. The signs should do this.
But they don’t. At least, they are not the reasons that the crowds follow Jesus and his disciples across the sea into Capernaum. Jesus, knowing their hearts, calls them out on it. They were coming to Jesus not because they had accurately read the signs that he was the Messiah from God who would save and redeem them. Instead, they were coming to Jesus because just that previous night, he had given them bread to fill their stomachs. Jesus gave them food from nothing at no cost to them, and they wanted it again.
The crowds were interested in satisfying their hunger and nothing more. In fact, the whole discourse between Jesus and the crowd that follows confirms that they were interested in literal bread to fill their stomachs. They had the same problem with bread that the woman at the well from John 4 had with the living water that Jesus promised her. She was too focused on her own thirst and not having to endure the shame of the other women at the well to see that Jesus was offering her something different from – and entirely better than – the physical water she came to draw each day.
Likewise, the crowd seemed to entirely miss the point that the bread that Jesus offered was something completely different than – and entirely better than – the literal barley loaves they had eaten the previous night, the taste of which was probably still on their tongues. No, the crowd could not guess this. They were too lost in satisfying their own cravings to understand what it was that Jesus was offering and giving to them. They wanted the manna that would guarantee them full stomachs so they could lead the kind of lives they wanted to lead – whether God was with them or not. As long as they had his bread, they really couldn’t care any less.
See, the crowd sought Jesus with the wrong motives. Sure, they were seeking him – and that should be a good thing – but it wasn’t a good thing, because they were seeking him for the wrong reasons.
So then, what is the right motive? What is the right reason to seek Jesus? Well, he addresses that, too. Listen to what Jesus says in our passage, “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…This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
The right reason to seek Jesus is the pursuit and attainment of eternal life, which is only granted through the food that endures – the food which the Son of Man will give. And how do we attain this food? We believe. We believe that Jesus was sent by God, that God set his seal on him for the particular task of providing life-giving bread from heaven that does not just sustain life here in the fallen world, but instead grants and sustains life in eternity.
And the crowd missed this entirely. But are we any different today from that crowd that pursued Jesus over to Capernaum? How often do we turn to Jesus and look to him as some token or magic wand that will grant us our immediate desires – a green light instead of red, a parking lot closer to the entrance rather than farther away, a job promotion that will give us better breathing room between the end of the paycheck and the end of the month. How often are we just as guilty for seeking Jesus for the way that he can satisfy our material and earthly desires, rather than flinging ourselves at his mercy in the hopes that he will satisfy our eternal debt and despair?
Do you realize that those of our neighbors who sit at the poverty level as determined by the US government are still people who enjoy fabulous wealth in the eyes of most of the world? We can walk into a store and pick up all kinds of food. We can find safe drinking water at the nearest faucet. We consider cell phones and cable TV to be staples or even necessities, not luxuries. What an eye we have. What an appetite to fill. And in our desperation to fill them, we often cry out to God pleading that he would provide our daily bread, meaning all of the things that our neighbors enjoy and that the advertisers throw into our minds.
Come Thursday, many, though certainly not all, across our nation will gorge themselves on all kinds of different scrumptious treats. The standards are turkey with gravy, or perhaps cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, stuffing, rolls, and then a smorgasbord of desserts including perhaps pecan pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, and who knows what other delights of the tongue. We will gather with family or friends, and perhaps some strangers, and we will fill our stomachs with these confectionary wonders. We will eat until we are satisfied and beyond. And we will do this as an act of Thanksgiving.
And I have no doubt that if Jesus were to appear among us again in his glorified body, he would join in all the reverie and sample from every dish, perhaps even indulging in the after dinner, pre-fourths nap that inevitable calls us on Thanksgiving days.
But as we give our thanks this week, perhaps we can pause and think about what we have to be thankful for that goes beyond any four walls that we might have as a shelter, beyond any label in our shirt, beyond any brand name marker on the wheels that take us from here to there, beyond our material hungers of all their various stripes and colors to see that which we have most to be thankful for.
We were not present that day that Jesus gave out pieces of barley and fish until the whole mountainside was filled to the top of their esophagus. Yet we just as much have partaken of the many benefits of the Bread of Life as that crowd did on that day. So as we give our thanks this week, ask yourself this question: Why do we come to God? Do we come because of the things that he provides and gives to us? Because our belly is full, our home is large, and our appetites are satisfied? Do we come because of the things we enjoy? Are we like that crowd that followed him to Capernaum? Or do we come out of deep need for a spiritual filling that will satisfy more deeply than any Thanksgiving meal might?
The crowd followed Jesus that day out of pleasure of having a full stomach. They wanted that fleeting feeling again, and that is all that they were seeking when they crossed the lake. Jesus says: seek more. You have deeper more lasting needs, and I am a deeper, more lasting fulfillment of those needs. Seek me. But really seek me! Do the work of God of believing in me that I might grant you through my bread of life eternal life. Don’t just crave things that are here for the moment and tomorrow they are gone. Crave that which lasts. Seek me.
Jesus is our only source of true satisfaction. How satisfied are you?
 Jeremiah 29:13
 Matthew 7:7
 Matthew 6:33
 John 6:26
 John 6:27, 29