As a parent, I’m super aware of the motivation of my kids. Unknowingly, we have conditioned them to expect a reward for certain desired behaviors.
If I tell them to eat all their dinner, they’ll respond by saying, “Will I get a dessert?”
If I ask them to go clean their rooms, they’ll say, “Can I watch a show?”
If I ask them to do their homework, they’ll say, “Will I get to stay up late?”
As their dad, I care about their motivation. I want them to eat their dinner, clean their room, and do their homework because I’ve asked them to do it. Ultimately, I want them to want to do it because they know it’s good for them, not because they’ll get something out of it.
Sometimes I wonder if Christians are conditioned to respond to Jesus in the same way. Do we pursue Jesus or do what He says because we hope He'll do something for us, or just because of who He is?
There’s a story in John 6 in which Jesus does an amazing miracle that leaves a massive crowd thinking that if they play their cards right, Jesus could be their sugar daddy.
As He regularly does, Jesus teaches this crowd all day. At the end of the day, instead of sending the crowd away, He asks His disciples “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (v5).
His disciples are dumbfounded by the question. There are more than 5,000 people in this crowd. Jesus can’t possibly be serious, right? They respond by saying, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite” (v7).
The responsible and wise thing to do would be to send this crowd away and let them figure out their own dinner plans.
But Jesus, confident in what He's about to do, instructs all the people to sit down. Then, with the lunch of one boy, five loaves of bread and two small fish, He feeds the entire crowd as much as they want. It’s like an all you can eat buffet on steroids. Forget going back only for seconds. There’s enough for thirds, fourths, and a doggy bag for the road.
The crowd, astonished by what they’ve just seen and put in their mouths, draw the conclusion, “We should make this guy our king!” (v15, paraphrase).
Why not, right?! Who wouldn’t want a king that doles out free lunch every day?
But Jesus, knowing their motives, quietly slips away. While Jesus is compassionate and generous, He’s also immensely concerned about our motives, especially when it pertains to Him.
The following day, this crowd, still coming out of their food coma from the day before, seeks out Jesus hoping for another free meal. But when they find Him, He wastes no time bringing to light the real reason they're after Him. He says, “You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (v26, paraphrase).
Essentially, Jesus is saying, “You missed the point. It wasn’t about the food, it was about me. But you’re not really interested in me, are you? You’re only interested in what you can get from me” (paraphrase).
Ouch! I'm sure that had to sting.
Jesus’ challenge to this crowd, is to believe in Him because of who He is, not because of what He can do for them.
But what happens next is one of the most outrageous things in the New Testament. In response to His challenge, the crowd has the audacity to suggest that Jesus do another miracle to confirm for them that they should believe in Him. They even have the gall to suggest what he should do! They essentially say, “There’s a story of Moses making bread rain from heaven (Ex. 16). Can you do that? Because if you can, we’ll definitely believe” (v30-31, paraphrase).
How crazy is this? They think that Jesus is at their beck and call. As though He’s some show pony who does cute little tricks for affirmation and applause.
But Jesus won’t have any of it. Again, He basically says, “You’re missing the point. The miracle from Moses reveals the same thing as my miracle yesterday. It’s not about the bread, it's about me!” (v30-31, paraphrase). Then He goes on to say, “I am the bread of life” (v35).
Jesus is the true bread that satisfies all our deepest hungers. All too often we approach Jesus looking for what He can do for us.
“Jesus, can you put more money in my bank account or get me that promotion?”
“Can you fix this relationship that’s on the rocks?”
“Can you cure this illness I just discovered?”
Now again, just like with the crowd, Jesus is kind and compassionate. The crowd wanted to make Jesus king not realizing that Jesus already is King. And as King, He’s quick to do good things for us because He loves us. But He ultimately desires that we would pursue Him just for Him, not for what we can get from Him.
So, I guess that leaves us with the question, why are you pursuing Jesus?
Are you pursuing Him because of who He is or because of what He might do for you?
Is Jesus Himself really enough?
If Jesus were never to make all your wildest dreams come true, would you still follow?
Jesus promises to give us everything that we need. He may not make all your wildest dreams come true, but His love and goodness will never be withheld from you. His righteousness and mercy will never fail you.
The truth is, He already knows the motives that drive your pursuit. You can’t hide them. You might as well be honest and trust that He’ll be gracious and kind.
He is the bread of life. Trust in Him, and you'll never be hungry again.