The people asked Jesus, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” –John 6:30-35
The story of Jesus feeding five thousand with a couple of loaves and fishes is actually a kind of sad story. I mean, it’s a cool story too, and I definitely would have liked to have been there to see it. I would have loved to see what it looked like for food to multiply in the baskets as it was passed out. But it’s a sad story because of what happened afterwards: people missed the point of Jesus completely.
You see, after Jesus fed all those people, the crowd was understandably wowed. They even wanted to make him king. But they were impressed for the wrong reason: they just wanted a king who would give them stuff. So Jesus abruptly left.
The next day, the crowd tracked him down and demanded another miracle. You might have thought Jesus would be impressed with how diligently they searched him out, but he wasn’t. “You were looking for me,” Jesus said, “not because of the miracle I did, but just because you wanted more food. Stop working for food that spoils, but instead work for the food that lasts forever.”
Jesus knew that the crowd was only looking for him because they wanted another show, another miracle, another meal. He knew they didn’t actually care about him; they only wanted what he could give them.
The conversation went on, with the people demanding another miracle (as if yesterday’s miracle wasn’t impressive enough), and Jesus telling them that the real bread that God wanted to give them was the kind of food that would last forever.
That got the crowd’s attention. “Okay,” they said. “Give us that bread!”
Jesus answered, “I’m the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” In other words, what Jesus was saying was, “I’m the only thing that will satisfy you forever.”
The crowds only wanted Jesus because Jesus could give them stuff. But Jesus was here to give them something far, far better: the gift of himself. Jesus knew that all the other stuff we could possibly want—food, toys, clothes, money, friends, family—will never make us happy in a way that would last. Toys break, food spoils, clothes go out of style, money just makes you miserable, people disappoint you. But we were created to know and love Jesus, and to be known and loved by Jesus, and only that can fill us up with happiness forever.
But the crowds following Jesus didn’t want to know and love Jesus. They just wanted him to give them stuff. And that’s why this turns out to be a sad story. They missed the whole point of Jesus: that the best possible gift he came to give was the gift of himself. That only he could fill them up with happiness forever. That he was the Person that they were created to know and love and enjoy forever.
So here’s a question to think about: why do you want to follow Jesus? So that he can bless you and give you stuff? Do you think that if you’re good, God will give you all the things you pray for? If so, you’re acting like the crowds in the story. They didn’t actually want Jesus; they only wanted what Jesus could give them. Or do you want to know and love Jesus more? Is that what you pray about? I hope so, because that’s the kind of prayer that Jesus loves to answer.