Sep20FriSeptember 20, 2019
An ancient phenomenon is resurfacing in a more noticeable way than ever. It is what I would like to call the utilitarian approach to Christianity by those who are takers only. I call this an ancient phenomenon because the pattern can be traced back to the days of Christ, Himself. Even one of the original twelve disciples was discovered to be a taker. Judas followed Jesus so long as he thought that he could gain from it, but when he discovered that Jesus was to be crucified like a criminal and, in fact, would not be made the earthly king anytime soon, he defected and betrayed Jesus for whatever he could gain at the moment.
Judas was not the only one who did this during the earthly ministry of Christ. John chapter six tells the story of an unnumbered multitude who turned away from Christ once they learned things about Him that became a turn-off. John 6:66reads, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” This event occurs during the Galilean ministry days of Christ when miracles were literally a daily event. The Galileans were privileged to a front-row seat, watching as Christ single-handedly eradicated sickness altogether from their region. It was indeed an amazing time to be alive in Galilee.
Jesus traversed back and forth over the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. Tiberias [John 6:1] and Gennesaret [Luke 5:1]) performing miracles involving healing, nature, creation, spiritual deliverance, resurrection and so much more. His fame grew to such a degree that He was sleep deprived and exhausted physically due to the demand for more and more miracles. It seemed that no matter where He went, the multitudes could find Him. The demand for miracles was incessant. This is partly why the twelve disciples were chosen and given similar powers (Matt. 10:1-4). The limitations of the human state of Christ in His incarnation demanded that a ministry team be assembled and outfitted for the purpose of ministering and administering miracles.
It must be understood, however, that the miracles ministry of Christ and the disciples was not the only facet of their outreach. In fact, miracles were not even first on the list. It was actually the preached Word that was the primary focus of Christ. That is why, on occasion, we find Jesus placing a buffer between Himself and the multitudes so that the gatherings of people would be forced to listen to Him without actually touching Him, or being touched by Him.
For example, in Luke 5:3 the Bible says, “And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.” On this occasion, Jesus put some space between Himself and the crowds for the purpose of teaching without the distraction of miracles. In this particular case a miracle followed the teaching – Jesus drew a great catch of fish into the nets of the fishermen (Luke 5:1-11). Nonetheless, the teaching was the primary focus.
In spite of the Living Word preaching the written Word, the crowds were still drawn more to the miracles than His teaching. John 6:2 says, “And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.” I find it impossible to ignore that this same self-serving mentality exists today. It comes in different formats because the needs for medical miracles and food supply are not as acute as they once were. Yet, people still seek Jesus as it were, strictly for the loaves.
In the earlier portion of John six is the familiar story of the feeding of the 5,000. It was orchestrated for the purpose of drawing a crowd and it succeeded. The crowd was so pleased with the meal that in John 6:14 the Bible says, “Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.” They were persuaded that Jesus was that prophet. This was a term used to identify the anticipated Messiah. They would have been content to crown Him King then and there. This is, however, a long chapter and there is much more to behold.
By the time we get to John 6:66, these same people are forsaking Jesus and turning away. What happened?!?! In verses sixteen through twenty-one, Jesus walks on water and rescues the Twelve from certain drowning. Afterwards is when the end begins:
John 6:25-27, And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
It is now essentially, breakfast time and they have found Jesus in expectation of another meal. You might find it shocking that Jesus did not oblige them this time. In John 6:28-29, they persist by asking, “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” They wanted to know if Jesus could impart to them the power to make loaves and fish for food. Jesus disappointed them when He informed them that their desire for physical gratification did not factor into His mission. Their greatest need was to believe on him whom he hath sent, but their most immediate need was hunger.
They persisted even further:
John 6:30-34, They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
They were unable to transition from the physical to the spiritual, and at that point the conversation, though it continued, was essentially over. They want Moses’ manna. They strictly want loaves. It is understandable. The scarcity of food in that day made the availability of convenient provisions appealing, I’m sure. Nevertheless, their problem is that they can’t see the Lord for the loaves. Jesus wanted their spiritual attention, but He didn’t get it.
John 6:41, “The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.” Now they are antagonistic. Why? They are suffering from the side effects of a spiritual low-carb diet. They are missing the spiritual nutrients that bring growth of soul and spirit, even if there is starvation of the flesh (Matt. 5:6). Sadly, they are uninterested, unsaved and unsalvageable. Their diagnosis is that they tasted the physical bread before they ate the spiritual bread (John 6:35, 48). They even admit to being mistaken about the origin of Jesus. He is demoted from being “that prophet” to “. . . Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?” (John 6:42)
They balked at the proposition that Jesus was offering Himself as the answer to their deepest spiritual hunger. John 6:51-52, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They are now fully disengaged and disenchanted with the Son of God.
Jesus continued in John 6:53-58, “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”
For the true believer, that is music to our ears. It speaks of a kingdom to come. It speaks of a glorified Christ with a satisfied bride. It speaks of a glorious union between Christ and the church. For those of us who are redeemed, we know that what you eat becomes you. If you eat large amounts of bananas, you don’t become a banana, the banana becomes human. If you eat lots of chicken, you don’t start scratching around on the ground and clucking like a chicken. That food becomes you (Gal. 2:20-21). Spiritually speaking, when we take Christ into our lives and consume Him and digest Him, His life becomes ours. We are content with that.
Let me make an application: many Independent Fundamental Baptist churches have been peddling loaves instead of the Bread of Life. The human need to know God is expressed metaphorically as hungering and thirsting. Both, or even one of these needs unsatisfied can bring death and sorrow. Independent Baptists are different than these unbelievers in John six in many ways, but in some ways they are quite similar. One similarity is that the dreadful mistake of many Independent Baptists has been merging the physical with the spiritual bread. In other words, offering a physical gratification along with the spiritual consumption of the Bread of Life. Sadly, the thoughts of many Fundamental Baptists rose no higher than their physical needs. This is why I believe the Gospel itself is at stake among many Independent Fundamental Baptists.
The defectors of John six made some deadly mistakes that mirror some of these same trends. In regards to the manna:
- They Were Mistaken About the Source of the Manna (6:32a). Moses did not give them the bread. He merely relayed the instructions about gathering the manna.
- They Were Mistaken About the Symbol of the Manna (6:32b). The manna was not actually the True Bread from heaven. It was merely a symbol of the True Bread to come. They never made the transition from the manna to the metaphor.
- They Were Mistaken About the Spirituality of the Manna (6:33a). They wanted physical bread. Jesus was there for their spiritual needs to be met.
- They Were Mistaken About the Scope of the Manna (6:33b). They wanted to be pacified instead of satisfied. The manna fed Israel. The True Bread is for the world.
With these thoughts in mind, let us beware that we do not fall into the same snare as many Independent Baptists have fallen into. For example, our prayer lives ought to be about the Bread from Heaven. Not earth’s will being done in heaven, but heaven’s will being done on earth. Not demanding the loaf of changing our circumstances so that we are satisfied in a world that is not our final home. We ought to pray like pilgrims and strangers, not like residents and citizens.
If you behave in an outwardly sanctified manner for the sole purpose of pastoral approval, you are doing that strictly for the loaves. The ecclesiastical at-a-boy that you receive from him may very well be eliminating your eternal reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Independent Baptists are notorious for grooming atmospheres where pastoral authority trumps everything. Many even insist that if you are not right with your pastor, nothing else matters. Do not insinuate that you have joined the cause of Christ if all that matters to you is pastoral approval. Pastoral authority as taught in the confines of God’s Word is biblical, but always remember that one day you must give an account to Christ, and so will your pastor.
Independent Baptists are notorious for never getting the salt out of the shaker. You can get so “separated” that your roommates are Christians, all of your co-workers are Christians, your classmates are all Christians, you only dine with Christians, all of your recreation is around Christians, etc. The Bread of Life is for the world. Don’t be content with a personalized loaf that is just enough for you. The little boy shared his lunch (John 6:9). Are you sharing the Bread of Life or are you miserly with your portion.
Our worship is not some kind of a “heavenly experience” that we dangle out in front of the church. I have vivid memories of services in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches where it was considered a great victory if there was a “breakout” and no one preached. I have even heard people boast that it has been weeks since they had any preaching at all, citing the moving of the Holy Ghost as eliminating preaching. If you repel the preached Word, then it is highly suspicious that you are in it strictly for the loaves.
These are a few examples, but in summary, nothing can substitute for Christ. It is certain that Judas discovered that Christ was all that really mattered, but it was sadly too late for him. Don’t wait too late to get your eyes off of the loaves of man-made religion and get your focus where it should be.Brad Bailey is a husband, father of four, author, pastor-teacher and college president in Brandon, Florida.