Some who set out to follow Jesus Christ do so for shallow reasons that are eventually exposed. True disciples focus on Christ first.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”
They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”
Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:26-29)
The more I read the 6th chapter of John, the more fascinating I find it.
It begins with one of the more well-known miracles – the feeding of the 5,000 – and ends with many disciples abandoning Jesus.
At one point the crowds want to force Jesus to be king, at another everyone is arguing over His teachings.
It exposes a flaw that some who follow Christ succumb to. That is, wanting to experience the benefits and excitement that surrounds Christ, rather than wanting to experience Christ Himself.
Jesus had many hard things to say in this chapter. Today, we focus on one of them. It is the idea that true disciples will focus on Christ first, and the benefits of being around Christ second.
Focusing on the Person of Christ
The difference between practicing a religion versus following Jesus Christ is precisely that.
Take Christ out of Christianity and you are left with a hollow shell.
That was the message that Jesus was trying to convey in today’s passage, as well as other parts of John chapter 6. A message that the people who were gathered around Christ were missing.
These people had become enthralled with the miracles and healings Jesus performed. Something about the feeding of the 5,000 put them over the top. As with this passage, the people began asking how they could perform these good works themselves.
What they didn’t understand is that God isn’t looking to create a gathering of miracle workers. God was in their very midst in the person of Jesus Christ, who was there to reconcile all to Himself (Colossians 1:19-20). Therefore, the only “work” that God desired for them was to believe in Christ.
Rather than try to attain Christ’s power, God wanted them to focus on Christ first.
Enjoying – Not Coveting – the Benefits
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that if we seek first God’s kingdom and live righteously, He will give us all that we need (Matthew 6:33). What we need and what we want can be two different things.
The people following Jesus in this passage wanted to be able to replicate the exciting things Jesus was doing. That is what they were most interested in.
Think about going to a basketball game and seeing one player hitting 3-pointer after 3-pointer, without missing. You can hear the crowd collectively gasp and roar with each make. It’s almost like with every miracle Jesus performed, the crowd became more like they were attending a sporting event.
If it happened today, you could almost picture people high-fiving, chanting Jesus’ name with every new lame person walking or blind person seeing. In truth, these were reasons to celebrate, because they were signs that Jesus was the Messiah (Luke 7:18-23).
Some would say that you could find the same thing in some of the more hyper-charged, worship experience-focused churches today. I am not disparaging all upbeat worship, but a simple YouTube search will yield footage within purported churches that should make even the most free-worshipping follower of Christ uncomfortable.
When we focus on Christ first, abiding with Him, then our desires, attitudes, and even our needs will be shaped by Him. Jesus Himself will be what excites us, what we are interested in. And then we will celebrate what He does and what He can do for us for much better reasons.
Recognizing Those Who Endure
We are told that once Jesus started teaching about Himself, it disillusioned many who had been following Him, resulting in “many disciples” leaving Jesus (John 6:66). Several translations render that as “disciples” that left Him.
We think about the 12 disciples we are told about, but it’s possible Jesus had hundreds or even thousands who considered themselves His disciples. At one point He sent out 72 to witness from town to town. After Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to over 500 people at once.
The number is not as important as the designation. Unfortunately, there are those who believe themselves to be His followers but are self-deceived (Matthew 7:21).
When some of Jesus’ disciples left here, He turned to the 12 disciples and asked if they were going to leave also.
Peter replied that they had nowhere to go because they believed in Jesus and knew He was the Son of God (John 6:68-69).
In saying this, Peter was proving out today’s passage, that he was doing the only work God wanted him to do – to believe in Christ. Even in the face of those around him who walked away, Peter knew the truth and was committed to endurance.
When we focus on Christ first, we are focusing on the true foundation of our faith – Christ Himself, the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22). We do not trust in His power or His performance. We trust He was who He said He was – the Son of God.
For the true follower of Jesus Christ, that is enough.
More verses about focusing on Christ first: