I mentioned to you this morning and last week that I wanted to draw your attention to John chapter 6, and this is a great chapter. I am going to take you through some highlights, some marvelous sections of Scripture, some key chapters. We’re going to do that on Sunday nights for a while. And tonight - and next Sunday night, I’m sure - we’re going to go through John 6. I really don’t think I can do it in one night since it’s 71 verses.
But this is a very, very significant chapter in the Bible. And if I were to title the chapter, I would title it “Divine Sorrow Over Spiritual Defection.” Divine sorrow over spiritual defection.
I had lunch this week with a friend who was telling me the sad, sad, heartbreaking story of a son who was raised in the church and raised under the hearing of the Word of God, raised in a Christian environment and a Christian home, who has turned his back on Christ and entered fully into the homosexual community in San Francisco.
We have been made aware, recently, of a husband, in our congregation, who’s turned his back on his wife, his family, the Lord, and walked away.
I can go back in my life to a friend that I had in high school who was a really good friend. In fact, we were running mates on the football team, and we played together on the baseball team in high school. And we did some passing out of tracts down in Los Angeles as kids. And I was the president of my youth group in my church and he in his, and we even worked together in the summer. And he went away and abandoned the faith. I had a hard time with that as a kid.
I went to college. I had another running mate. In fact, the two of us were running backs together in our college days in football. We were good friends, and both of our fathers were pastors, and both of us said we wanted to go into ministry someday. He denied the faith, got involved in drugs, was arrested for lewd conduct, got a Ph.D., denied the faith, denied Christianity, and walked away and became a promoter of rock concerts.
I had a friend in seminary. We were also good friends, buddies. Both of our fathers had been in ministry. And we graduated from seminary the same year, and I went on in pastoring, and he set up a Buddhist altar in his home and turned away. It happens.
This kind of spiritual defection is, sadly, common, and it needs to be understood, and it needs to be addressed. I want us to look at John 6 with this picture in mind. There’s a lot in this chapter, and not all of it, at first look, speaks to this issue, but in general it does. Because if you look at verse 66, by the time you’ve gone through 65 verses here, much has been done, and much has been said. And in the end you have this, “As a result of this” - all that has gone before in this chapter – “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”
“Jesus said, therefore, to the Twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’
“Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’
“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the Twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ Now, He mean Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray Him.”
There’s so much teaching, there’s such a massive series of miracles in this chapter. But all of that being done, up through verse 65, the final few verses are the commentary on it all. And the first thing we see is defection. Defection even in the intimate case of one of the Twelve, namely Judas. And that’s what struck me about this chapter. After the incredible miracle of feeding 5,000 men, and certainly at least that many women and children – miraculously Jesus created food – after the incredible miracle of Him walking on the water, after the amazing message on Him as the bread of life, after answering the question of how one comes to true life, after all that teaching and all that evidence of who Jesus really was – by virtue of His works and His words – the end result is in verse 66, “Many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”
“Defection” is an ugly word. The dictionary defines it as desertion from allegiance or loyalty. A defector is a traitor. And I’m certain that all of us have had the painful and hurting experience of someone we have loved, someone we have invested in, someone we have worked with in the Lord’s work who has defected. Nothing is more painful to me than that.
I suppose, to some measure, I am comforted I the fact that Jesus had to endure such defection as well, as evidenced here, and in the case particularly of Judas. But Jesus was not the only one in the New Testament who gives us a measure of comfort, having faced the same thing. The apostle Paul had such sad and lonely experiences as well. Heartbreaking they were indeed.
In writing to the Philippians in chapter 2, he says in verse 20, “I have no one else” – other than Timothy – “of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.”
When you look at your life and catalog your influence on people, you may be discouraged to look at how many of those people, in whom you’ve invested spiritually, have defected from the faith. If it’s any comfort to you, I have had the same experience repeatedly through my life and ministry, sometimes with very long-term people who have been exposed to my life personally and my teaching for many, many years – even decades. And I find a measure of comfort in the apostle Paul because I can’t imagine anyone walking with the apostle Paul, seeing his life, ministering alongside of him, being touched by the profound character of the man and by his immense mind, and then seeking their own interests and not those of Christ Jesus. But that is precisely what Paul says to the Philippians, “I only have Timothy; everybody else is interested only in himself and not Christ.”
In 2 Timothy, there is another mention of the apostle Paul regarding this same thing. In verse 15 of 2 Timothy 1, he says, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia” – that’s Asia Minor where he ministered so greatly – “all who are in Asia turned away from me.”
“All who are in Asia turned away from me.” That is just an unthinkable thing. How could they possibly do that? How could they turn their back on the great apostle Paul? How could they turn their back on the Christ he preached and who showed such power through his life?
You come to 2 Timothy chapter 4 and it gets specific. He names, in chapter 1, the individuals Phygelus and Hermogenes. And then in chapter 4, he names another defector, verse 10, “For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Down in verse 16 he says, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me” - and then he prays with such grace – “may it not be counted against them.”
There he is, at the end of his life, coming for his trial in which the judgment will be made about whether he lives or dies, and nobody shows up. How lonely his heart must have felt.
How hard it is to be forsaken and left alone. Jesus knew it when the many disciples walked away in John 6. Jesus knew it when he tried to deal with Judas all along through the years until the final betrayal. The apostle Paul knew it as I the crisis moments of his life there was nobody there. The heartbreak of spiritual defection also reaches heaven.
If you doubt that, you need only to read the story of Israel, the story of Judah and the spiritual defection from their loving God who weeps for that defection. Jeremiah becomes the human instrument of those tears as God weeps through Jeremiah for a defecting Israel.
If it’s any encouragement at all, 1 John 2:19 must be considered. First John 2:19 reminds us of a spiritual truth that is essential. It says this, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. But you” – verse 20 – “have an anointing from the Holy One.” You have the Holy Spirit.
They were around; they were here; they were in the midst; they were in the presence. But they went out, and because they went out from us, it was clearly manifest that they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. They went out from us that it might be manifest that they were not with us at all and never had been.
Some people follow the Lord for a while and then leave. Their shallow, superficial commitment becomes manifest. As I noted for you, this is not something just familiar to those of us from this side of the cross. It was also true of God’s dealings with Israel.
Going back, for example, early in Israel’s life to the thirty-second chapter of Exodus, verse 7, “The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘God down at once’” – this was at Mount Sinai, when Moses was getting the Law – “‘Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.’” While he’s getting the Law, they’re making an idol. “‘They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”‘
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.’”
It wasn’t just Moses; it was also the prophets who had to confront this. In Isaiah chapter 16 and verse 9, God, through the prophet Isaiah, said to Moab, “I will water you with my tears.” Verse 11 says, “My heart shall sound like a harp.” God is going to weep and play a funeral song. The sadness of God over a people who were exposed to Him and His truth and turned to reject.
Isaiah chapter 22, verses 12 to 14, pictures the weeping of God over defecting Israel. “The Lord God calls for weeping,” it says, “and mourning, and baldness and sackcloth.” Isaiah 59:13 shows the people of God to be guilty of, quote, “Departing from our God.” And as I said, Jeremiah is the prophet who becomes, as it were, the human instrument of tears through whom God weeps. He weeps repeatedly as he sheds, as it were, the tears of God. You find Jeremiah weeping in chapter 2. You find him weeping in chapter 3, chapter 15, chapter 17, chapter 32, and chapter 41. And as I noted earlier, in chapter 13, he weeps the tears of God. He weeps even in the book called weeping or Lamentations.
We also find Ezekiel weeping, and Hosea weeping, and Joel weeping. We come into the New Testament, and we find Jesus weeping. And He, too, is weeping over defection. Luke chapter 19, verse 41, “And when He approached, He saw the city” – the city of Jerusalem – “and wept over it.” And wept over it.
The heart of God has been broken over those who claim to belong to Him and defect. With that as a background, turn to John chapter 6 once again. And as you come to this chapter, if you’re like me, you’re going to find it one of the most fascinating chapters in the gospel records for a number of reasons. Because of the notable miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 men – plus women and children, probably somewhere over 20,000 people. Notable because of the walking on the water. Notable because of the incredible message on the bread of life, the amazing statements about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
It’s notable for many reasons, but particularly I want you to note this chapter as a pathetic, sorrowful, profoundly touching text of Scripture because of the pain that must have been in the heart of Jesus when what unfolded at the end unfolded. The pathos here is really overwhelming. They misunderstand His feeding miracle. They misunderstand the whole situation of walking on the water. They misunderstand everything He says about the bread of life. They misunderstand the eating His flesh and drinking His blood. And in the end, instead of affirming Him, they walk away.
It doesn’t say, in this text, that He wept, but it is hard to imagine that He could have held back the tears through this series of events. The sorrow is so great in this chapter that at times you feel Jesus is leaning hard on divine sovereignty just to sort of control His composure and maintain His equilibrium, and finding His own only comfort in the fact that a sovereign God will do His work. It is a chapter about defection, but you don’t see that, really, although you see the buildup to it until you come to verse 66 and following.
Now, this is a clear indication that we should expect people to be in the church, around the church, hanging - as it were - out with us and with Christ, who are not genuine, not committed, and not saved. They are temporary, and they are superficial. They’re like the stony soil or the weedy soil or the fruitless branches of the vine in John 15. This chapter deals with Jesus, then. Jesus confronting his disciples – real and false. And you’ll note that there were false disciples who defected among the crowd. And that may be not too hard to understand. But there was also one among the disciples, and that’s incomprehensible.
Jesus, in fact, in this chapter, is crowded with people. This is a busy, busy scenario. But the defectors stand out above the rest. The shallow traitors are most notable.
Now, the question that I want to ask, as we go through the chapter – and there are a number of ways to approach the chapter. But just to get to the point at the end, the question I want to ask is what are the characteristics of a spiritual defector? What should you look for?
Are there things that we learn in this chapter that could cause verse 66 not to be such a shock? Not to be such a surprise to us? What should we look for? What can we expect to characterize them? Not all of them are characterized by all of these, but this is typical. Defectors will be characterized by these attitudes. Some will be characterized by all of them, as the case with the people – some of the people who were there at the very time. But all defectors will be characterized by some of these characteristics.
As we follow through the flow of John’s narrative in chapter 6, these characteristics will be revealed to us in the narrative. They’re not stated as such; they’re implied. The first one, defectors are attracted by the crowd. Defectors are attracted by the crowd.
Verses 1 and 2, after these things, Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or also called Tiberius – and a great multitude was following Him. Why? Because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick
Now, this is what initially attracts the false disciples. And frankly, it is indistinguishable from what attracts the true ones, for it is the notable works, the mighty works of Jesus that attracts the whole crowd which is mingled between the false and the true. This passage opens with this notation, that a great multitude was following Him. This could well be a year later if chapter 5 is describing the Passover. Or if it’s describing the Feast of Tabernacles, this would be six or seven months later.
What happened between chapters 5 and 6 is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and we call it the Galilean ministry. So, this comes at the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. He is still in Galilee, but He’s had either a year or six or seven months, at the least, to perform all the miracles recorded in Matthew 4 to 15, Mark 1 to 7, and Luke 4 to 9, called the Galilean ministry. By this time, the widespread healings and the widespread deliverance from demons have led to immense popularity. Disease has been banished from Galilee. The crowds are larger and larger and larger, and Jesus has become the most popular person in the history of Galilee – then or now or ever.
Jesus is the event of the lifetime of those people, and His popularity has drawn massive mobs of people. And frankly, it is always a bit dangerous when Jesus is popular, always a bit dangerous when He becomes the in thing. That in itself tends to attract the shallow who run with the mob. But I have to say that the same thing that attracted the shallow defector also attracted the true disciple: it was His power. And it was the character which He displayed in His teaching.
But miracles and power displays are always fertile ground for defectors and shallow followers. Christianity has to be very careful when it is popular. They’re drawn by the power displays, drawn by the hope of some miraculous intervention on their behalf or something they can cash in on.
And that takes me to the second point. The defectors are attracted by the supernatural. They are attracted by the supernatural. Verse 3, “Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” Jesus went up into the mountain at this point and He’s having some precious fellowship with His disciples. It must have been an unspeakable privilege to sit with Him and hear Him and feel His heart and experience His love. And we don’t know how many of them were there; “His disciples” is all it says.
“The Passover, the Feast of the Jews, was at hand.” As I said, this could have been a year later, and this would be, then, the nearness of the next Passover, and that would account even for a greater crowd, because now the devout Jews of Galilee are starting to collect to migrate south to Jerusalem.
“Jesus, therefore” – verse 5 – “lifting up His eyes and seeing what a great multitude was coming to Him, said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread that these may eat?’” Matthew adds that Jesus had compassion on the crowd because He saw them like sheep with no shepherd, and He began to teach them many things. And Mark and Luke say that He healed all the sick who were among them needing healing. So, this massive crowd experiences the compassion of Jesus. He teaches them profound truth about God and Himself, and then He heals all the sick who needed healing. And this, of course, just attaches the crowd to Him inseparably.
When evening came, the disciples asked Jesus to send the people away because they needed to eat. Somewhere at that point, Jesus speaks to Philip, verse 6, “And this He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.”
And the disciples were saying, and I suppose Philip was the spokesman, “You’ve got to get rid of this crowd because, you know, we’re not going to be able to buy food for this massive group of people” - now swelling, as I noted earlier, into the 20,000s. “You’ve got to send them away so that they can purchase some food; we have no way to do that.”
And Jesus, testing Philip – testing what? – did He share the Lord’s compassion? Did he believe in the Lord’s power? Did he see Christ as the supplier of every need? Did he believe that Jesus was greater than Moses, and if Moses could feed the people in the wilderness, Jesus could feed them there?
Well, he failed the test in verse 7. “Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.’” Two hundred days’ wages; that’s a fairly decent sum. It wouldn’t be enough to feed this crowd. They kept a little bag to help with the poor, but they certainly didn’t have enough for this massive group. They felt helpless.
“One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves’” – these would be like a little cracker, probably a little flat, cracker – “‘and two fish’” – probably pickled fish; they used to spread the pickled fish on the cracker or even just lay the pickled fish on the cracker – “‘but what are these for so many people?’” I mean that’s desperation. I mean it’s hopeless. “We’ve checked the crowd; we found one kid with a few crackers and some pickled fish. That’s it.”
Verse 10, “Jesus said” – I like this – “‘Have the people sit down’” – which is another way of saying get them all ready for dinner. “Now there was much grass in the place.” That’s just like the Lord – isn’t it? – not have to have all those people sit in dirt.
“so the men sat down, in number about five thousand.” And as I said, that would easily double with the women – and perhaps even more – and then the children. And we’re well into the 20,000s. Jesus said, “Get everybody seated, sit them all down so we can serve them.” Of course the question is serve them what?
“Jesus, therefore, took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. And when they were filled” – and you can stop there. Isn’t that a rather understated way to deal with this? Does that hit you? Like where’s the miracle here? It’s in the white space between verse 10 and 11. I mean shouldn’t it say, “And heaven thundered and the Earth shook and fish started flying out of the Sea of Galilee and diving into little baskets, and biscuits started sailing out of the sky and arranged in little baskets. And the angels sang.” I mean come on, if you created the universe, fish and biscuits is nothing - just fish and biscuits.
“And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost.’” Was this a Keep Galilee Beautiful act or what? No. Oh, you never thought of that possibility? This was – I never had either, but I just thought of it. Well, this was economy. I mean pickled fish would be good the next day, right? And it also is there to show the abundance, that this was not something skimpy. But more than that, I think verse 13 tells us why, “So, they gathered them up, and filled” – how many baskets? – “twelve” – how many disciples? Certainly of the apostles there were twelve, enough for them.
The word “baskets” – kophinous, large, heavy baskets from which we get the English word “coffin.” Probably not just one for each of the Twelve, because it’s doubtful that the basket being a kophinous was so big that no one could heat a whole basketful, but certainly enough for them and more left over.
Here was the real attraction for the crowd. They were – they just couldn’t believe it. They could see that all – the battle for bread was now over in the power of Jesus. They were looking at a life of leisure, because most of them spent all their time garnering food. And they were just struck by the fact that this was the ultimate welfare state. Just show up, and He makes the food. Wow! They were fascinated by it. They were always fascinated by His miracles. But this one was just beyond anything else. I mean healing some guy of a disease, that’s kind of a once-in-a-while deal. But dinner? That’s every day. And what about lunch and breakfast?
There are always the thrill seekers; there are always those who chase the wonders that fascinate them. And because Jesus is a wonder worker, and because He is a life transformer, and because He changes people, and because He pours out blessing, and because He blesses marriages and homes and families, and because He blesses His own, there is an attractiveness even today to the potential of what Jesus Christ can do in a life. And there are people always seeking Jesus for the miracles. And one of the immense dangers in this preoccupation with miracles that you find in the Charismatic Movement today is that it attracts all these people on the premise that there’s just a huge amount of miracles waiting for you to grab for yourself. They’re like Simon in Acts 8. They want to buy into the power.
Some people are attracted to Christ just because the crowd is there. It could be that the crowd, for them, was their family or their ancestors, or the expectations of their parents or whatever, or their friends, or the group they run in, or the associations they made because they grew up in a Christian environment, or because they just think it’s the in thing to do. There are some who come because they’re looking for the miracles; they want to cash in on the power.
Those who defect are drawn by the crowd and fascinated with the supernatural. But thirdly – and here’s the really telling thing – they think only of earthly things. They think only of earthly things.
Verse 14, “When, therefore, the people saw the sign which He had performed” – it was a sign of His messiahship – “they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’” That Prophet prophesied and promised in Deuteronomy 18:15. The promised Messiah. “This is the One who is to come into the world, the One who will bring us our kingdom; He’s here.”
Verse 15, “Jesus, therefore, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” All they wanted was to make Him an earthly king; that’s all. They had in mind an earthly kingdom; they never got past that ever. They wanted Him to overthrow the Roman occupation and liberate Israel with the same power He had just demonstrated. If He could create life, He could destroy it. It seemed easier to do that than create it. If He could create the loaves and the fish in such an immense miracle, certainly He could deal with Rome. And if He was that great Prophet that was to come, that great delivering Prophet, if they really believed that, and if they believed that spiritually, where is the adoration? Where is the respect? Where is the worship here?
All they wanted to do was take Him by force and make Him become king, and then use His power politically and militarily against the Romans. Instead of falling on their faces to worship the promised One, instead of falling down before Him and becoming enamored with Jesus Christ, they wanted to push Him into their own earthly agenda. This is typical of defectors. They’re looking at Jesus as the one who’s going to solve their earthly dilemmas; who’s going to fix their life, fix their business; who’s going to cause them to make more money, be more comfortable, be more satisfied.
That’s why you can’t ever sell the gospel on that basis without expecting to draw people for all the wrong reasons. You can’t call people to Christ because it’s the thing to do and look at everybody who’s doing it. You can’t call people to Christ because they can be guaranteed miracles. You can’t call people to Christ because Jesus is going to fix up their earthly condition. This is the lie of the health, wealth, prosperity gospel, and all it does is draw people in who soon become disillusioned.
Jesus said in John 18:36 and 37, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And boy, once He had made it clear that He wasn’t going to knock off the Romans and bring a welfare state, they screamed for His blood.
At first they thought He was the genii, and they were going to rub the bottle, and He was going to jump out and say, “What are your wishes?” And He was going to dispense comfort for their sorrow, and strength for their difficulty, and peace for their trouble, and health for their sickness, and food for their stomachs. And carnal enthusiasm took them over. And Jesus was the quick solution to their earthly problems.
I remember a person who had professed Christ, saying, “Your Jesus didn’t work. My husband left, my son’s in the hospital, and I have a terminal illness. Your Jesus didn’t work.”
The shallow follower has no sense of the spiritual, the eternal, the divine; no particular love for God or attachment to Jesus Christ. The shallow defector lives for now; it’s all here, and if Jesus doesn’t deliver, He’s history.
Defectors are drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the supernatural, but consumed with earthly things. And that takes me to a fourth point, and these just overlap and flow, in my mind. The forth point is they have no desire for worship. They have no desire for true worship.
You know, in John chapter 4, just a couple of chapters ago, Jesus defined salvation as worship when he said, “The Father seeks true worshipers.” And I’ve said this through the years, and I say it again, because it needs to be made clear. You can tell a true Christian because they are, beyond anything else, before anything else, a worshiper of God and Jesus Christ.
When - people ask me, “How can you determine if a person is a Christian? Can you determine it by watching them?”
Not necessarily, because some people live more lives, and some Christians sin in a public way that can be visible.
“Can you tell it by what they say?”
Well, if you listen long enough, it’ll probably come out, but some people guard their tongue very well. The way you can tell a person is truly a Christian is by what they long for. And if they long to praise and worship God and Christ, that’s the evidence of a transformed heart.
Verse 16, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum. And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” John is remember this by the Holy Spirit many years later when he writes this. And John wrote many years after this happened. Forty years before John wrote, Matthew and Mark had written of this same incident.
The disciples had no idea why Jesus sent the crowd away, because they couldn’t read His mind. And they didn’t know why He didn’t want to be king, because, after all, He was born a King. He was supposed to be King, and it was kind of confusing to them. But they honored Jesus’ desire to be alone, and in obedience they went into the boat as He commanded. “He went to the mountain” – verse 14 – “By Himself.”
They went down and got in their little boat to go across, which would have been across the north end of the Sea of Galilee over to Capernaum, which is on the north tip from where they were on the western shore. They would have gone from the western midpoint of the lake, or a little bit beyond midpoint, up to the northern part across the lake.
Then the test of true discipleship was made manifest, verse 18, “And the sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.” Those of you who have been on the Sea of Galilee understand this. What happens is the Sea of Galilee, like the Dead Sea, is believe sea level. And it’s surrounded by mountains, and the winds blow down canyons, and they come into this area which is surrounded by mountains on all sides, really, with some mountain passes at the northwest and northeast and the Jordan Valley at the southeast point. The winds come racing in, and they just swirl in that area. And it’s common, to anyone who’s been there, to see the Sea of Galilee - or the Lake of Gennesaret, as it’s called – with whitecaps. Not many lakes have whitecaps often, but this one does very frequently. They have many winds there. Winds that come off the ocean, winds that slide down from the mountains in Lebanon north of them, which are very, very high mountains – thousands of feet high – winds that come – siroccos which come from the desert to the east. And these kinds of winds are very familiar, and they cause tremendous agitation of that water, even danger from it.
“And the sea began” – in verse 18 – “to be stirred up because of a strong wind blowing.” Verse 19 says, “When therefore they ad rowed about three or four miles, they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.” This again is another one of these miracles where you just – somebody ought to blow a trumpet and say – da-da-da-da-da – you know? – or something. It’s just so commonplace; it’s just so matter-of-fact. Here’s this lake, 682 feet below sea level. Winds are blasting into the place, the whitecaps are everywhere. The storm is increasing in intensity. Night has deepened, hour after hour. They’ve been fighting the storm, and it’s the fourth watch, according to Matthew. So, it’s now between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning, and it’s in the dark, and they’re fighting all night to go three or four miles. And they don’t know if they’re going to survive, and they’re afraid. And all of a sudden, they look out, and here’s Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat, and they were frightened.
Well, I can understand that. I mean that would cause you to panic. And they didn’t even know what to make of this; they had never known anybody who had walked on that sea or any other sea. According to Matthew chapter 14, verse 30, it says, “But seeing the wind” – this is the parallel passage – “Peter became afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out.” And that’s the little story where Peter, you know, with his impetuousness, jumped out and started to go toward the Lord, then took a look at his surroundings and said, “What in the world are you doing out here,” and then started to sink and said, “Lord, save me,” and so forth, and they came back to the boat. And Jesus calmed their fears.
And as I’ve often said, the storm they were afraid of, but they were far more afraid of the One who obviously was walking on the water, who was none other than God Himself. But the key is in verse 20, “He said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’” Isn’t this just like Him? Here are these worried, fearful, frightened disciples, and who may well have drowned, and Jesus had to intervene. And He did, and He stilled the storm. “But they were still willing to receive Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” I don’t know how that works. The storm was quieted; it stopped. And instantaneously, they went from wherever they were to the shore. And the text almost sounds like they got there - without traversing the intervening water – miraculously.
And Matthew says they worshiped Him. They worshiped Him. What else? Never do the sham believers do that. Never. They never do that. They never fall down in adoring wonder. Never. Theirs is not the perspective of worship. The sham believer, the defector, and the traitor has the perspective of being strictly utilitarian. “What are you going to do for me, Jesus? I want to come because this is where the action is; this is where the crowd is. I want to come because I might cash in on some miracles here. I want to come because I got an earthly agenda, and I need somebody to fix my world the way I want it.” There’s no desire for worship. But the true disciples are marked out, and they’re sort of sorted and separated. As Matthew 14:33 puts it, “Those who were in the boat worshiped Him” – worshiped Him.
What you need to do when you look at people in this congregation or any who claim to be Christians, see how deeply they worship the Lord. See how they sing the songs. Ask them what their prayer life is like. How important is it for them to be here on the Lord’s Day to worship? How important is it to them to spend time with the Lord every day, adoring and thanking and praising Him? Is Jesus Christ the love of their life? Is it obvious that they long for Him?
Who is the God of their life? Is it really the true and living God and His Son Jesus Christ, or do they have some other god? You can see that if you look closely enough. Is there, in their life, a sense of deep humility? Is there, in their life, a sense of deep respect and awe over Jesus Christ? Are they marked by adoring wonder?
Well, fifthly, the defector is a seeker of personal gain. A seeker of personal gain, not worship, as we’ve been saying all along. And here it just plays out clearly. Verse 22, “The next day the multitude that stood o the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone.” In other words, there was no way to explain how Jesus got to where His disciples were.
“There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” So, bewildered that Jesus wasn’t there – He hadn’t gone in the boat of the disciples; they couldn’t figure out where He was – they all came back and said, “Where’s Jesus?” Why did they come back? They wanted to worship? No, they wanted breakfast. That’s exactly what they wanted; they wanted breakfast.
“So, they all came back, near Tiberius, where they ate bread the night before after the Lord had given thanks. And when the disciples, therefore, saw that Jesus was not there, nor His” – or – “when the multitude therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.”
Now, they’re going to row the three and four hours, or three and four miles, I should say, however long it would take – the sea being calm, not that long – and they were going to row that themselves to get to Jesus. And so, they commandeered ever small boat there in the little harbor of Capernaum – of Tiberius – and started the trek because, hey, free food is free food. And that’s what was on their mind. Eating was the main cause of their efforts.
You have to understand that agriculture is a lot of hard, hard work, and free food was an instant ticket to leisure. They rowed, then, to Capernaum, verse 25, for the wrong reasons. “They found Him on the other side of the sea. They said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You get here?’” It’s almost like they’ve been watching for Him, not wanting to let Him out of their sight. After all, they were trying to make Him king by force to start with. And they rowed across the lake for free breakfast. And they can’t figure out how Jesus got there. All they thought of was personal fulfillment, “Meet my needs, supply what I want, feed me.”
Verse 26, “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me’” – here is the indictment - “‘not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.’” You’re here for one thing: you’re hungry. The filled is chortazō; it means to be foddered up; it’s used of an animal. They were real candidates for the prosperity gospel. They wanted their desires met on the spot. Jesus was to be used to provide for them and that was it. “Make me wealthy; make me prosperous; make me successful; fulfill all my desires, and do it now. I demand it!”
Verse 27, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal.” “You’re looking,” He says, “for the wrong stuff.”
There is eternal life to be had. Isn’t it astonishing, really, when you think about it? How many people come into the church and turn their back on eternal life? That’s why we have to preach on hell; it’s why we have to warn people about what is to come in the next life. People need to understand what they’re doing. It’s fine to be drawn by the crowd; it’s fine to be fascinated by the supernatural power of Jesus; it’s fine to be thinking about what He is capable of doing in earthly matters. But at some point, worship is demanded, and you’ve got to get beyond seeking personal prosperity and come to grips with eternal issues.
I suppose we could sum it up by saying seekers like this are just shallow. And I’ll tell you, folks, as a footnote – this is what deeply concerns me about this whole seeker sensitive movement. What kind of people are they attracting? Drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the supernatural, thinking only of earthly things with little desire for worship and desiring personal prosperity, they do not understand eternal issues.
And number six in defining these people – and this will be the last one, and I’ll give you the remainders next Sunday night – they make demands on God. These seekers make demands on God. These traitors, these defectors make demands on God. In other words, they sort of come into the church with, “Okay, God, I’m going to give You six months to deliver, and if You don’t, I’m out of here.” Now, they may not say it in just that way, but that’s how it comes out.
Verse 28, “They said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’” Do you know what they’re doing? They’re saying, “All right, our first demand is give us the power.” Do you know what they’re saying? Now listen to this, they’re saying, “Are You saying You’re not going to make breakfast? Is that what You’re saying, Jesus? Are You saying You’re not going to make our breakfast? Then give us the power to do it. Give us the power so we can work the works of God?”
This is identical to Acts chapter 8. Simon, you know, he saw the power displayed through Peter, and he offers money and says, “I want that power; how much? How much? Give me the power.”
I’ll tell you, there are a lot of people in Christian churches who are trying to somehow get the power. And you even hear people say, “Folks, we want you to get the power.” Wild, crazy things go on like the supposed Toronto Blessing and the Brownsville, Florida, stuff that’s going on right now where people are jumping and hollering and screaming and flipping and flopping all over the place for one basic thing. They’re trying to what? Trying to get what? Get the power. They’re like Simon. Get the power. I want the power; give me the power.
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
Aw, come on; that isn’t what interests them. “So” - verse 30, they have another demand – “they said therefore to Him, ‘What then do You do for a sign that we may see and believe You? What work do You perform?’” Second demand, do some more miracles to prove you’re worth believing in.
He says in verse 29, “You’ve got to believe in Me. You have to believe.”
“All right, do some more tricks. Come on, do some more.” And what they’re thinking about is, “How are we going to put Him in a corner? He wants us to believe? Okay, we’ll believe if You make breakfast.” They’ve just seen a monumental miracle, and they want more. “Can you top that?” See, for the thrill seekers, there are never enough signs, there are never enough wonders, there are never enough miracles. Shallow disciples are sustained by the promise of miracles but never satisfied by it. “Do a really big one; I mean a really big one,” they’re suggesting.
How big? Verse 31, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness” – uh-huh, now we’re getting to their real objective – “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Do you know what they’re saying? They’re saying, “Okay, You’re so great, listen to this one. Do You think You’re really great? You provided food for 20,000 plus people on one occasion. Not bad. Moses gave manna daily to millions for years.” That’s what they’re saying. “Moses gave manna daily to millions for years. Come on, can you top that?” Boy, they are crass, aren’t they? They make demands on God. “And you better deliver what I want. How can You be greater than Moses? You fed us one time; Moses fed us for years. How could you possibly be greater than Moses?”
I’ll tell you what; they’re pretty smart. Whoever’s articulating this for the crowd – pretty sharp. They just want a perpetual food supply; that’s all they want. They want a perpetual life of leisure, and a perpetual food supply would do it. The thrill seekers always want more; they never, ever, ever have enough. That’s the sad thing about trying to suck people into Christianity on the basis of the promise of some delivering of some miracle.
Well, Jesus’ answer is far superior to their question. “Jesus said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it’s not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it’s My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.’”
“By the way,” He says, “Moses did not produce that bread; he just directed the collection of it, and it was only manna.” Angel food cake. “But I give” – or something like that, a kind of a light, fluffy cake with a honey kind of thing – “But I give,” He says, “the true bread from heaven which satisfies the soul.” Moses didn’t give that; God did. Moses just directed the collection of it. “And I’ll give you something far better that’ll satisfy your soul.”
Moses’ bread - verse 33 says, “The bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.” Moses’ bread was for physical nourishment; this is the bread of spiritual nourishment. Manna couldn’t prevent death. The whole generation, including Moses, died in the wilderness. Manna was for Israel; this is for the world. “Yes, I am greater than Moses because the bread that I give will satisfy your soul.
And so, verse 34, “They therefore said to Him, ‘Lord, evermore give us this bread.’” Just keep giving it, and giving it, and giving it, and giving it if it’s going to end our hunger. They still never got the point. All they wanted was to demand what they needed and have those demands met. So it is with false disciples.
And, beloved, this is – this is why you have to be so careful. Jesus now - after the feeding of the 5,000, walking on water, now we get to the real issue here. Jesus begins now – the crowd is pouring after Him, pouring after Him, and now He begins to push them away.
Push them away? Yes. He begins to sort them out with the truth. The goal of Christian preaching, the goal of presenting the gospel, the goal of the church is not just to open the door so wide that we can suck up everybody in and make them feel comfortable. The goal is to preach the truth to as many people as possible so that we can sort out the true from the false.
Shallow disciples. How can we recognize them? They’re drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the supernatural, consumed with earthly things, have no desire for worship, seek only personal gain, and make demands on God. And when they don’t get them met, they’re off to look for some other fulfillment.
Well, that’s just about halfway through. Next Sunday night, we’ll finish this great chapter.
Father, thanks for a wonderful evening. I thank You for these gracious and faithful folks who fill our church with a hunger for Your Word and a love of Christian fellowship.
And I pray, Lord, even now, for any who are superficial, who are spiritual defectors, who will be traitors because they’re here for all the wrong reasons. O God, may they pull out of the message tonight the need to worship the living Christ for who He is, to adore Him, to be lost in wonder, love, and praise. They need to seek eternal things, not temporal things.
And we pray, Lord, that those who perhaps might be, at this point, chaff to be blown away in the judgment, or who might be weedy soil or thorny soil, where the seed only takes momentary root, then is burned; who are fruitless vines; who are Judas branches hanging around hypocritically, but soon to defect. O Lord, such people I pray for them because of how much sorer punishment shall they be thought worthy who have trodden underfoot the blood of the covenant and count it an unholy thing. How much more seriously will they be judged who have known the truth and turned from it?
So, I pray that in Your grace You would save those before it’s too late. Any who have been deceived, who have been deceived to think they’re true believers, but there is no passion for the worship of the God and Savior they say they believe in, and there is no devotion to eternal things, but rather a preoccupation with all that is selfish and shallow and earthly, reveal that to every heart.
And may there be genuine conversion take place among those who, up to this point, are not genuine, lest the day would come when they finally, like those in verse 66, would walk no more with Him and, like Judas, go to that place reserved for such traitors. To that end we pray, for the honor of our Christ, amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.