TITLE: On Making too Little of Jesus SCRIPTURE: John 6:24-35
Jimmy and Joey, normal boys
Like fishing in the brook.
Of course they dug in garden soil
For worms to bait their hook.
I'd wryly glance into their can
Then quickly look away
To give each one a hasty hug
And send them on their way.
One day young Jim came grumbling home
"To get more bait," he sighed.
"You didn't have enough?" I asked.
"Joe ate it!" he replied.
My stomach churned
My color turned
Grey purple, green, and red--
Till Jimmy, still disgusted, spoke--
"This morning we took bread!" By Mary Orr
Last week our lectionary Gospel lesson was about the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Jesus took a little boy's lunch -- five loaves and two fish -- and fed five thousand people. Afterwards, his disciples gathered the leftovers, which filled twelve baskets.
Now we find people flocking to see Jesus. They come for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they want to see what all the excitement was about. Jesus has been doing interesting things, and they want to see them -- and him -- with their own eyes.
But when they find Jesus, he accuses them of coming just to get another free lunch. They have seen the Son of God at work in the feeding of the five thousand, but failed to see beyond their bellies. It was as if someone had set up a fast food joint with free bread and fish -- and they loved it. We would love it too. People tell us that there is no free lunch, but we still hope to find one someday.
That crowd succumbed to the temptation to make too little of Jesus. We, too, are tempted in the same way -- tempted to make too little of Jesus. We are tempted to follow him for the loaves and fishes -- to look to him for a free lunch.
We are always tempted to make too little of spiritual things. Some years ago a comic strip showed a person carrying a sign that said, "The World Will End Tomorrow." Right behind him, another person carried a sign saying, "Only One Shopping Day Left."
What would you do if you knew that the world would end tomorrow? Would you spend time with your family? Would you kneel in prayer? Or would you shop till you drop? Don't answer too quickly. Just imagine the temptation to run up big bills that would never come due. We are always tempted to make too little of the big things in life.
So how can we avoid that? How can we get the focus right? How can we do what God wants us to do?
That is what the crowd was asking when they said to Jesus, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" That was pretty much the same question that the rich young ruler asked -- "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18). The Jewish religious laws were so complex that nobody could obey them completely, so these people were asking, "Where shall we focus? Which laws are really important? Help us to sort out the majors from the minors!"
"This is the work of God,
that you believe in him whom he has sent."
"That you believe in him" -- meaning that you believe in Jesus. The crowd wanted to know what they had to do to please God. Which law was greatest? They knew that they would fail at some things, but that were absolutely critical -- tests that they could not afford to fail. What are those, Jesus? What must we be especially careful to do?
"This is the work of God,
that you believe in him whom he has sent."
The church, at its best, has always been careful to teach people to believe in Jesus. If you have faith in Jesus, he will save you. Do you believe in him?" If so, you are saved.
That makes some uncomfortable. They want to say, "Wait a minute! Who are you to say that this person is saved? That's God's job!", "What about baptism?", "What about discipleship?"
I know one thing for sure. I knew that faith in Christ was the central teaching of the New Testament. Paul said, we are "justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law" (Romans 3:28). But, first, Jesus said that the most important thing we can do is to "believe in him whom (God) has sent" -- in other words, believe in Jesus. That is the beginning of our walk with Christ. Baptism and Discipleship should naturally follow.
People have been discovering and rediscovering this great truth through the ages. We tend to forget Jesus when things are going well, but we remember him when things are going poorly.
James Baker, Secretary of State of New York, spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1990. He began by talking about his hesitancy to accept the invitation to speak at a prayer breakfast. He was accustomed to speaking about public policy -- not private faith. He also talked about his experience of exercising great power -- an experience that he found less fulfilling than he had expected. He then said:
"That (kind of fulfillment)
comes only by developing a personal relationship with God,
which for me is personified by Jesus Christ.
Inner security and real fulfillment come by faith --
not by wielding power in the town where power is king."
Baker went on to talk about how he had once thought of strength as the kind of self-reliance where you needed no one -- where you never needed to admit having problems. Then he found himself struggling with a problem that he could not solve. He said:
"No matter how much I tried, I couldn't figure it out --
but I found strength in being able to talk it over with my wife, Susan.
As we did, a truth from the book of Proverbs finally crystallized our thinking.
'Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
lean not unto your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him
and he will direct your path.'
Susan helped me to see that I needed to stop trying to play God
and really turn the matter over to him.
Without this, I'm convinced I would never have resolved the problem."
There is a story, that is the stuff of legend, that developed around Alexander the Great. His horse ran away and an unknown foot soldier ran after and caught Alexander the Great's horse! When he brought the animal back, he was ushered in to the great General's presence, and Alexander rose to thank him and said:
"Thank you, Captain!"
With one word, the foot soldier was elevated to the rank of Captain! When the General said it, it was a reality. What's more, the foot soldier believed it! He went to the appropriate place and selected a new uniform and put it on. He then went to the tent compound where the officers stayed and selected a bunk!
The reality of his promotion was nothing until he accepted it and believed it and began to live it! We live within the promise of God's grace and goodness, but we have to accept it -- live it -- respond to it.
How can we prepare ourselves for the storms of life? Trust in the Lord! Believe in Jesus!
How can we please God? Trust in the Lord! Believe in Jesus!
How can we gain the food that endures to eternal life? Trust in the Lord! Believe in Jesus!
Resist the temptation of making too little of Jesus so that you might believe in him and enjoy the salvation that he offers.