In chapter 6 of the gospel of John, Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd with five loves of barley bread and two fish. What fascinates me about this story is the very natural response of the people. According to verse 14, the people said, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (NIV). Verse 15 continues this thought by telling us Jesus knew they intended to make him king by force.
This interchange is important in many ways. First of all, it impacts our view of the people to whom Jesus came. To say that Israel somehow failed by rejecting her Messiah, is to forget that Israel was never meant to accept her Messiah. Jesus intentionally made sure they did not and would not accept him. When they got ready to crown him he would withdraw. When they got comfortable with him, he would offend them. When they expressed their offense at him, rather than apologizing, his words were more barbed and intended for greater offense. Jesus apparently had never read How to Win Friends and Influence People. When they were ready to make him king, because they are sure he is the Messiah, he withdraws from them. However, this is not what most intrigues me about this passage.
They believe he is the prophet because he miraculously fed them. If he is made king he can continue to provide them with food. Hungry people do anything to be filled. Hungry people will follow anyone who promises them bread. They will even start a revolution to satisfy their hunger. They see in Jesus, not a Messiah who will save them from sin, but a king who will save them from hunger. Such a king can make it possible for everyone to be fed. No one would starve, or even have to earn their bread. Such a king not only meets the needs of the hungry, but fulfills the desires of the lazy. A common rule of economics is that of the “Free Rider.” Mankind always does the least necessary. Any person who can benefit without any effort will do so. This is a major problem facing welfare programs throughout history—they too often overlook this economic fact. If a person will eat the same with effort as they will without effort it is natural to simply take what is given and avoid the effort. Most of these programs subsidize laziness and punish hard work, by taking from the one who works hard and giving to the one who will not. Here we see Jesus facing his own “free rider” problem. These people do not want to be saved or even to serve him. They want him to serve them and to do so in a very specific way—through the giving of bread. Later, in the same chapter of John, we see this again. When Jesus makes claims about himself (claims they had previously entertained themselves), they ask him for a sign in a not very subtle way, “What miraculous sing then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” They continue with a not too subtle recommendation: “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30f NIV). We can paraphrase this with: “What can you do to prove you are who you claim to be? Oh, here’s an idea! Give us bread and we’ll believe in you.” Not only does Jesus refuse to be baited, but he actually goes out of his way to offend them. He says that rather than giving them bread, he is the bread they need. When this does exactly what it is supposed to do, he doubles down and continues by saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world” (John 6:51 NIV). Shortly after this, most of those who had wanted to make him king when being fed rejected him when he refused to play along.
Jesus is not some heavenly slot machine—pull the handle and a prize comes out. Jesus is the lord of heaven and earth, the king of the universe. He does not need our belief and neither does he need us to concur with his choice of action or direction. He will choose and we will live with his choice. He will act and we will experience his action. He will decide and we can only follow.
When I watch a movie, I am looking for the philosophy and worldview being demonstrated. One movie that I loved was The Grey with Liam Neeson. Since I have spent years discussing and studying the philosophical Problem of Evil, I love when Neeson’s character is lying on the bank of a stream, wolves coming quickly as he looks into the sky, and calls on God to take action. What I love most, is that God does nothing. Many have gotten to their own version of this, promising to believe, to change, to be better, etc., if only God will step in and act. Yet, when God does not act they take it as an indictment of faith. However, it is just at this point, when He chooses not to act, that God most demonstrates His divinity and sovereignty. If God is at your beck and call, ready to provide the miracles you need to rescue you from your own life and your own choices or circumstances then He is reduced, and you have become God. This cry of “God if you will do (fill in the blank) then I will do (fill in the blank) for you,” is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate God. A god that can be manipulated is not worthy of worship.
Jesus chose not to be manipulated by the crowd offering am earthly crown. He chose to follow the divine plan, leading to a divine crown—a plan that required rejection and crucifixion.