disciples

What Does God Want Us to Do?

A question about God asked over and over in one form or another boils down to—What does God want us to do? It may get asked in different ways and with other words but it’s the same question.

This is reflected in the way many people describe what they think God expects of us what asked about their religious beliefs, God, or Christianity in general—be good and do good to others.

When I was a young believer in an introductory theology class, we looked into the meaning of the word religion. It’s generally used to describe the nature of engagement or relationship between people and God.

Different meanings can be found but the origin of the word religion is based on two words—relegere and relegare. The first means—go through again, as in reading or in thought. Relegare means, to bind fast, with the idea of an obligation on or a bond between humans and gods.

I came to realize religion could mean many things to different people but it spoke of humanity’s efforts to engage with God in some way. The emphasis being on humanity’s view of how to relate to God. And this is reflected by how many different religions exist in the world.

Scripture

When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into these boats and went to the city of Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus replied to them, “I can guarantee this truth: You’re not looking for me because you saw miracles. You are looking for me because you ate as much of those loaves as you wanted. Don’t work for food that spoils. Instead, work for the food that lasts into eternal life. This is the food the Son of Man will give you. After all, the Father has placed his seal of approval on him.”

The people asked Jesus, “What does God want us to do?” Jesus replied to them, “God wants to do something for you so that you believe in the one whom he has sent.” [vss 24-29]

The people asked him, “What miracle are you going to perform so that we can see it and believe in you? What are you going to do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the desert. Scripture says, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”

Jesus said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the man who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.”

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time.”

Jesus told them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never become hungry, and whoever believes in me will never become thirsty. [vss 30-35]

(John 6:24-35 GW)

Key phrase—

God wants…you (to) believe in the one whom he has sent

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Who goes to find Jesus and His disciples? Where do they go and how do they get there?

  • What do these people ask Jesus and what is His response to them?

  • What does Jesus say they should and should not work for? What do you think He means by this?

  • What kind of bread are the people asking for and how does Jesus answer them?

Reflection...

Stories are observations of a slice of time in life. Something can be learned from any and every incident but it requires good observation skills and an discerning understanding of what’s observed.

The dialog between the people who searched for Jesus and His responses to them reveal a lot about humanity in general. In general, we are more concerned with the immediate than what’s eternal. And, we’re more focused on the physical than the spiritual.

Perhaps this seems obvious in this story but I’ve found it to be true for myself as well—even though most of my life has been centered around ministry and spiritual things. It’s easier to see spiritual dullness and ignorance in others than ourselves.

I’ve met thousands of Christian believers in many places and cultures. I’ve realized the majority of them—even those with much Bible knowledge—still tend to wonder—What does God expect of or want of me?

The answer isn’t difficult nor deeply spiritual. This is what God wants—

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 NLT)

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Does it seem like the people and Jesus are talking about two different things? If so, why do you think this is?

  • How does Jesus try to explain the difference between the bread people are seeking and what they should seek?

  • How does Jesus describe Himself? In what way does He answer the people’s questions?

  • Do you understand what Jesus means about coming to Him and never hungering again? How is this true in a spiritual sense?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— If you still wonder what God wants from you, try seeing it from His point of view. Consider what Jesus says in response to questions people ask Him. The Lord desires for us to have a personal relationship with Him not gain anything from us.

Prayer Focus— When you find yourself desiring or hungering more of what this world has to offer, ask the Lord to help you see things from His perspective. Ask Him to give you His gracious and merciful vision to see you as He sees you and to see others with His eyes.

©2019—Word-Strong

More Than Enough

Jesus did many miraculous signs while on earth—healing people, bringing back the dead, and a few unusual things. Only one of His miraculous signs is recorded in all four gospels—the feeding of 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

As with all the miraculous signs in John (John 20:30-31), this one has a lesson and illustrates an important aspect of the Lord’s ministry. Each sign is temporary and situational. They’re not eternal and their purposes are specific not an end in themselves.

John helps us see this miracle as a teaching opportunity with the dialog between Jesus and Philip. Jesus wanted His closest followers to learn something about Himself and the Kingdom of God. It was a lesson for His disciples not for the 5,000 people who were fed.

The miraculous sign was not about food. Everyone, including Jesus and His disciples—especially the crowd of 5,000—needed to eat again the next day. Several lessons can be gleaned from this event. One thing is certain—the crowd missed the point completely—as many people still do now.

Scripture

Jesus later crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or the Sea of Tiberias). A large crowd followed him because they saw the miracles that he performed for the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat with his disciples. The time for the Jewish Passover festival was near. [vss 1-4]

As Jesus saw a large crowd coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked this question to test him. He already knew what he was going to do.

Philip answered, “We would need about a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each of them to have a piece.” One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, who was Simon Peter’s brother, told him, “A boy who has five loaves of barley bread and two small fish is here. But they won’t go very far for so many people.” [vss 5-9]

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” The people had plenty of grass to sit on. (There were about 5,000 men in the crowd.) Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to the people who were sitting there. He did the same thing with the fish. All the people ate as much as they wanted.

When the people were full, Jesus told his disciples, “Gather the leftover pieces so that nothing will be wasted.” The disciples gathered the leftover pieces of bread and filled twelve baskets. [vss 10-13]

When the people saw the miracle Jesus performed, they said, “This man is certainly the prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus realized that the people intended to take him by force and make him king. So he returned to the mountain by himself. [vss 14-15]

(John 6:1-15 GW)

Key phrase—

Gather the leftover pieces so that nothing will be wasted

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Where does Jesus go with His disciples and what time of the year does this happen?

  • Who follows Jesus and the disciples and what is their reason for following?

  • What does Jesus ask Philip and what is Philip’s response? Who else tries to help with the situation?

  • What does Jesus do with the available food and what happens as a result?

Reflection...

The feeding of the 5,000 is an amazing miracle but what is even more amazing is what’s gathered up after all the people ate and were full—12 baskets full of leftover bread and fish!

Jesus used this situation as an opportunity to train His disciples. Here are just a few of the lessons He wanted them to learn—

  • Have compassion and care for the needs of the people

  • Utilize what you have rather than focus on what you don’t have

  • Look to God as a first option rather than a last resort

  • Practical guidance on delegation, organization, distribution, and follow-up

There’s much more to be learned from this miraculous sign but this list is a good start. Later in this chapter (Chap 6), Jesus will explain how this sign relates to Him in a metaphorical sense and His purpose for coming to earth.

So, why would Jesus have the disciples gather up what is leftover? Yes, so nothing will be wasted. But why would this be important? Two quick thoughts. First, it reinforced the miraculous nature of this feeding of 5,000 people. It also showed the Lord’s concern for what we might call follow up or follow through.

He’s always our example of faith and trust in God. Jesus saw beyond the immediate to what was next—the two events and teaching following this story.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Why do you think Jesus tested Philip when He knew what He would do?

  • What did the crowd of people say among themselves and what did they want to do after this miracle?

  • How do you think Jesus knew what the people wanted to do and what was His response?

  • What are the many specific and practical things Jesus does in feeding the people and what specific insight or lesson did you gain from this story?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Understanding why Jesus did what He did requires discernment and guidance from God’s Spirit. We also need to carefully observe what is said and done, and dig deeper by imagining ourselves in the story and asking ourselves relevant questions.

Prayer Focus— When you are faced with what seem to be impossible or overwhelming situations, look to the Lord first for wisdom and guidance. Trust Him to help you see beyond the circumstances, to see people with His eyes, and to know how to move forward by faith.

©2019—Word-Strong

The Jesus Diet

Are you searching for the perfect diet? Americans spend inordinate amounts of money on special diets, supplements, and exercise regimens. It’s a cultural obsession. One of many.

A while back, I wrote about a self diet but this will be a look at what could be called the Jesus diet. It has nothing to do with eating food or exercising but everything to do with life—what we focus on in life.

This part of the story of Jesus in Samaria begins with an awkward social situation. A Samaritan woman who comes to draw water from an ancient well leaves without it. The sight of Jesus speaking to this woman is unsettling for His disciples—it was socially unacceptable (John 4:9).

The disciples return from their food shopping excursion in town and try to convince Jesus to eat but to no avail. His reasoning for not eating their food leaves the disciples even more puzzled than the awkward social encounter as they arrived.

Scripture

At that time his disciples returned. They were surprised that he was talking to a woman. But none of them asked him, “What do you want from her?” or “Why are you talking to her?”

Then the woman left her water jar and went back into the city. She told the people, “Come with me, and meet a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” The people left the city and went to meet Jesus. [vss 27-30]

Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, have something to eat.” Jesus told them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” The disciples asked each other, “Did someone bring him something to eat?”

Jesus told them, “My food is to do what the one who sent me wants me to do and to finish the work he has given me.” [vss 31-34]

(John 4:27-34 GW)

Key phrase—

My food is to do what the one who sent me wants me to do

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What is the reaction of the disciples to Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman?

  • What did they seem to want to ask Jesus but didn’t? Why do you think they didn’t?

  • What is the primary concern of the disciples and how is this obvious?

  • How does Jesus respond to the disciples’ urging Him to eat something?

Reflection...

The disciples found it difficult to understand what Jesus said many times and His explanations didn’t always clear up their lack of understanding. Most of us have similar difficulties today. Why? Because we, as they were, are restricted by our own personal perceptions.

The primary food of Jesus—His diet—was whatever the Father asked of Him and to do the Father’s will until it was finished. Jesus explains further what the work of the Father is in the remainder of the story.

But for now, consider what the priority is of your daily diet. Is it more like the food of Jesus or the concern of the disciples? Are you more concerned with God’s will or your own?

When our priorities in life are centered around us, they tend to be selfish and limited. When our priority is God’s priority—His will for our life—we’ll be free from the worry of what we’ll eat or drink or wear. God’s already promised to take care of those needs (Matt 6:31-34).

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How does this story show the Samaritan woman as more spiritually perceptive than the disciples of Jesus?

  • Have you found yourself struggling to understand God’s will for your life?

  • Why do you think it’s hard to see what God is doing in the midst of our life each day?

  • How do you provide time each day to seek the Lord’s direction for your life?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Jesus was clear what His Father’s will was for His life. The disciples made their own priorities (food) important and tried to impose that upon the Lord. But the woman at the well—focused more on spiritual things than the physical appears more connected with Jesus than the disciples.

Prayer Focus— In your times of prayer, ask the Lord to help you see how you are displacing God’s priorities for your life with what’s more important to you. Then ask Him to help you see how to put His will above your own in daily life.

©2018—Word-Strong

A Self Diet

Dieting and weight loss have become a stand-alone industry. I'm amazed by the onslaught of ads and commercials everywhere I look—TV, social media, billboards. Physical fitness programs are often linked with specialized diets.

I don't know why I'm amazed by all the focus on diet and fitness. It all lines up with our cultural obsession with self and appearance. Of course, even selling "healthy" junk food and trendy cars appeal to this obsessive focus.

It's a paradox of sorts. Culturally, we honor self-sacrifice and service to others by first responders and military personnel, while we elevate the value of whatever promotes ourselves for our highest satisfaction. We're values-conflicted. Self-sacrifice and self-exaltation are two opposite values.

I use to hear people say, "America is a Christian nation" or that we have a Christian heritage. Not so much anymore. Perhaps one reason is our values conflict. As a Christian—a follower of Jesus—exalting our self isn't just a paradox, it's the exact opposite of Jesus' call to follow Him (Matt 16:24). Concerned about your diet? How about a self-diet? It's the diet John the Baptizer was on, along with Jesus.

Scripture

Later, Jesus and his disciples went to the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them and baptized people. John was baptizing in Aenon, near Salim. Water was plentiful there. (People came to John to be baptized, since John had not yet been put in prison.)

Some of John’s disciples had an argument with a Jew about purification ceremonies. So they went to John and asked him, “Rabbi, do you remember the man you spoke so favorably about when he was with you on the other side of the Jordan River? Well, he’s baptizing, and everyone is going to him!”  [vss 22-26]

John answered, “People can’t receive anything unless it has been given to them from heaven. You are witnesses that I said, ‘I’m not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of him.’

“The groom is the person to whom the bride belongs. The best man, who stands and listens to him, is overjoyed when the groom speaks. This is the joy that I feel. He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance. [vss 21-30]

“The person who comes from above is superior to everyone. I, a person from the earth, know nothing but what is on earth, and that’s all I can talk about. The person who comes from heaven is superior to everyone and tells what he has seen and heard. Yet, no one accepts what he says. I have accepted what that person said, and I have affirmed that God is truthful.  [vss 31-33]

The man whom God has sent speaks God’s message. After all, God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything in his power. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life. Instead, he will see God’s constant [continuing] anger.” [vss 34-36]

(John 3:22-36 GW)

Key phrase—

He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What prompts John the Baptizer's disciples to question him about Jesus?

  • What seems to be bothering John's disciples about Jesus?

  • How does John answer the concerns of his disciples? What does he tell them?

  • In what way does John say he needs to decrease while Jesus increases?

Reflection...

John the Baptizer's final testimony about Jesus is consistent with what he said at the beginning of his ministry. He knew his role as the "the best man" to the groom—that is, Jesus (verses 27-28). John's own disciples were jealous of Jesus but John set the record straight for them— He must increase... I must decrease

John's testimony is what every follower of Jesus ought to hold true in their heart. A true encounter with Jesus and His grace is a humbling experience. We realize who He is and our place as a believer. As John said, "(He) is from above... I (am) from the earth (verse 31).

John's testimony at the end of this chapter (3) ties into the conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus at the beginning. Jesus told Nicodemus of his (and our) need to be born from above. It's an invitation to enter into a personal trust relationship with the Lord.

But there's a caveat. Whoever rejects trusting in Jesus will not receive eternal life. Rejecting a relationship with the Lord means continuing in a self-focused life. There is no upside to this choice. It brings exclusion from God's kingdom—His domain of gracious love and eternal life. This is a choice we all make at some point in life. If we're unwilling to go on a "self-diet," this choice is made by default.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How is John's statement about decreasing in importance just as relevant for us now as it was for him then?

  • How is it possible for us to decrease in importance so Jesus can increase in importance?

  • In what way can this take place in your own life? How can John's example guide you?

  • Since this idea of decreasing our self importance is so opposite of what's common in our culture, what are specific steps that anyone can begin to take to do this?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This—  A personal relationship with the Lord Jesus only comes through a personal encounter with God's grace. When we truly experience God's grace, it will bring a humility and desire for the Lord's nature to increase in us and our selfish nature to decrease.

Prayer Focus—  Does your heart desire and cry out for the Lord's nature to increase within you at the cost of your own selfish nature? If not, ask the Lord to work in your heart in a fresh way by His grace.

©2018—Word-Strong

Trouble at the Temple

Under the Mosaic Law even when Jesus walked the earth, Jewish men were expected to attend three feasts celebrated at the temple in Jerusalem—the Feasts of Passover (and Unleavened Bread), Pentecost (or Weeks), and Tabernacles (or Booths).

These were important as memorials of God's faithfulness to His people at pivotal points in their history. They were also events that held greater meaning and significance for the future of those who trust in the God of Israel—the Living God.

As with many events and miraculous signs in John's gospel, this event at the end of Chapter 2 was illustrative of the Lord's ministry on earth with eternal impact and significance.