In the message you’ll listen to this week by Tim Keller on John 6, when Jesus feeds the multitudes and claims, “I am the bread of life,” Keller commented that if the purpose of the miracles was to dazzle and convince us of His Deity, he could think of better ways Jesus could have done that. “He could have flown to Rome. He could have touched down and zapped the gladiators and the lions.”
BUT JESUS DIDN’T COME TO DAZZLE
US WITH HIS SUPER-POWERS
OR TO BE A STAR
Keller says that miracles are not meant primarily to convince people of the Deity of Christ because people will always find a way to explain it in some natural way. No doubt you have seen many of the explanations given for the biblical miracles. Some explanations may be plausible, for God may choose to work with the natural forces He created. Though every time I hear one of these explanations, I also know that the world is eager to have another explanation than God intervening. You may have seen, for example, this report:
When my husband was dying of cancer, I had some tell me that if God healed him, that it would be a great sign and many would put their faith in Christ. I wasn’t so sure. For I have seen how people so often explain things away so that they do not have to believe. Sometimes their explanations are pretty far-fetched!
When I lived in Nebraska I was part of the leadership team of “Sonrise Bible Studies.” (Kim and Joyce are involved in that ministry.) In the beginning years, we had so many unbelievers coming, and we wanted them to keep coming, so we had some guidelines to keep them from being discouraged.
One was that if a new member said something nearing on blasphemy, that instead of the main leader correcting her, she should wait for someone in the group to do it, or she should gently lead back to Scripture, or, as a last resort, signal her co-leader for help. Our philosophy, which is also that of Alpha’s (a tremendously successful evangelistic curriculum which God has indeed quickened) is that the unbeliever who is not humiliated is more likely to keep coming and come to faith)
One week we were studying the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand from one little boy’s lunch, and one of the members said, “Do you know what the real miracle was?”
I wasn’t sure what was coming, but it was worse than I could have imagined. She said, “The real miracle was hospitality. Our minister explained that everyone had bread and fish under their robes, and brought it out when it was needed.”
There was silence — and some were nodding in agreement! I tried Plan A. “What does someone else think?” Silence. Trying not to panic, I went for Plan B. “Let’s look at the passage again and see if we can find support for that.” Again, silence. Finally, Plan C. I said to my co-leader and dear friend Shell — “Shell — what do you think?” Shell was so stunned she couldn’t speak. I can still picture her, frozen in her chair. (I don’t even remember how we got out of it — but I’ll never forget how astonished I was that this was taught from a pulpit in town. But I know now it is a common explanation in many churches for that miracle.)
Do you remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16? The rich man did not believe in God and had neglected the beggar Lazarus at his door. Both died, and Lazarus was carried by an angel to Abraham’s side, but the rich man was in torment in Hades.
The rich man pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers that hell was true. Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.”
The rich man said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
Abraham said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced is someone should rise from the dead.”
And we know that is true, for Jesus rose from the dead, and yet there is unbelief everywhere.
Miracles seldom change hard hearts. That doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t or that they have ceased. (Please don’t think I am saying that!) So if the miracles of Christ were not so much to convince people of His Deity, then what was the primary purpose of His miracles?
Every miracle Jesus did was to restore the world to the way it was meant to be. There was not meant to be sickness, hunger, hurricanes, and death. These are all part of the fall. But every miracle, and this is what I want you to ponder, also teaches us something about Jesus and our relationship with Him.
So when He fed the multitudes and then followed it up with His claim: I AM the Bread of Life, what was He teaching us?
This is what we will consider this week — and I am eager, during the Bible study section, to share a way the Lord spoke to me as I studied this passage this week, for it is truly helping me and I believe it may help you too.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. Report on your last week’s Lenten discipline. Will you continue with the same or do a new discipline this week?
Monday-Wednesday: Bible Study
I’d been pondering the words of Jesus that follow this miracle: “Don’t labor for the bread that spoils, but labor for the bread that endures.” (John 6:27) This is what He was teaching through this miracle, so I wanted to understand it!
I know that it is easy to put so much time and money into things that will pass away, and very little into those things that will not. I know this is the heart of what Jesus was showing, saying, and wanting us to understand.
But the Lord took me deeper when I had dinner this week with dear friends, Ed and Cynthia Longabaugh. We were talking, as we have been so much this year, about idols of the heart. Ed said something which caused me to pause, which gave me a slight tremor of “The Mysterium Tremendum.”(If you have just joined us for Lent, some of this may be hard to understand — but do the best you can and don’t worry if you don’t get it now.)
He said, “Idols always demand a propitiation.”
“What do you mean?”
In the Old Testament, the pagans and the Israelites would sacrifice to other gods to appease them. Those gods demanded a sacrifice — sometimes even a human sacrifice.”
I thought about that — how sometimes they would even put their children on the fire to Molech.
“And would you say that our heart idols also demand a sacrifice?”
“Yes. For example, a woman might desperately want the approval of her mother, and live her whole life trying to get it. She sacrifices years, peace, contentment…”
I drove home that night pondering. I came home, curled up in my chair, and turned to a passage the Lord brought to mind. It’s from Jeremiah and he is telling them that their lives have been wasted because of their idol worship:
…the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters… Jeremiah 3:24)
I had sobering thoughts — of how my idols have demanded a sacrifice — from me and from my family. I have regrets — about not being more diligent in training my children when they were young, about not being more diligent with my health (I have to battle reflux from poor eating habits and watch carefully for skin cancer because of years of working to get tan), about not being with my husband as much as I could have his last year. I have confessed and the Lord has forgiven me for all this — but my idols of comfort, security, and approval all extracted a sacrifice while I was serving them. If my eyes had only been on Jesus, and the bread that endures, I would not have these regrets. I and my family would have been spared the sacrifice that was demanded.
But I also thought — I don’t want to sacrifice anything else to idols. Help me, O Lord, to turn from them and to You.
3. Comment on the above.
4. Read John 6:1-15 and describe the miracle. If a verse quickens you, slow down and tell us what you see.
(We studied John 6:16-21 two weeks ago on the post called: Life is a Sea Voyage)
5. Read John 6:22-35
A. According to John 6:26, why did Jesus say they were seeking Him?
B. This should always cause us to ponder — do we find Him useful or beautiful? How are you doing in this area?
C. What does he tell them in verse 27, and what does this mean?
D. Keller says that in verses 30-31, they are asking Jesus to do the miracle again! Do you agree?
E. What does He repeat to them in another way in verses 32-35?
F. What stood out to you from this passage and why?
Thursday-Friday: Listen to this Keller message (It’s $2.50): Link
6. What did you learn from his first point “Bread for the Mind?” (This is his longest point — he contrasts watertight case with watertight Person)
7. What did you learn about “Bread for the Body?” (This was brief, and you might miss it — but he talks about how hunger is not God’s plan — and how this miracle not only shows that, but how we are to be a part of alleviating the physical hunger of others.)
8. What did you learn about “Bread for the Heart?”
9. What is your take-a-way this week?