What Must We Do?

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 6:27-29

See if anything in this conversation speaks especially to you. Jesus of Nazareth dealt with people one day about what they really wanted in life. In response, they asked Him what they had to do to be on the right track. He told them that it wasn’t so much a matter of doing as believing. Listen. I’m reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 6, verse 25:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

WHAT WE WANT MOST

All right, let’s look first at what these people were after in their lives, what they were striving for, seeking. The day before they had been present when Jesus fed the multitudes. From one boy’s lunch, he brought forth enough to feed thousands, with baskets full left over. That night He had gone across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Now these people were trying to trace His movements and find Him. When they succeeded, Jesus commented on why they came.

Apparently, they weren’t thinking very much about what Jesus had had to say. They hadn’t decided to become His followers. That miracle the day before hadn’t raised questions in their mind about who this Jesus might be. Their reasons for seeking Him out were on a different level. Jesus tells it like it is, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” In other words, you got a good meal yesterday. Quite unexpectedly, out in the wilderness, you had a feast, all the bread and fish you could eat. So you thought today you’d come back for more.

Jesus notes that they have put forth considerable effort to find Him. They’ve done some detective work to figure out where He might be. They’ve come all the way across the lake. They’ve succeeded and now they’re waiting for the next meal.

Jesus tells them that they’re missing the point. “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you.” He’s not saying, of course, that it’s unworthy to work for a living or that there’s anything wrong with planning for your next meal. He’s talking about priorities, about what you’re seeking most in life, what you concentrate effort on securing for yourself. Is it something perishable or something that lasts?

A friend of mine named David Myers, a well-known professor of psychology at Hope College in Michigan, has written a best-selling book entitled The Pursuit of Happiness. He cites experiments with hundreds of thousands of people in which they rate their personal sense of well-being, of happiness. Are they “very happy,” “reasonably happy,” “not very happy,” or “unhappy”? The tests were given to people of both sexes, of all ages, citizens of many countries. They tested the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, people who had won lotteries and others who had suffered catastrophic accidents. The researchers were looking for just what it is that makes people content.

Now if you ask them, says Dr. Myers, if they would be happier if they had, say, 20% more income per year, the great majority will say yes. In fact, however, when people do experience that increase in income, it has no measurable effect on their sense of well-being. They simply recalibrate. That is, after a while, they begin to think that maybe 20% more would do the trick. The happiness they thought they would find seems strangely elusive.

That’s the problem Jesus is pointing out here. We plan and scheme and strive about how we can get more. But when we get it, the deep cravings somehow aren’t satisfied. Jesus says we should concentrate instead on the food that endures to eternal life – the food He can give.

WHAT WE WONDER ABOUT

You say, “What does that mean?” That’s about the way they reacted too. They weren’t sure what He was talking about. They heard Him comment on what they were laboring for. They heard His claim that He was the Son of man on whom God the Father has set His seal. They knew at least there was something they had to do and that it had to do with God. So, they asked Him, “What must we be doing to do the works of God?” You say, we’re on the wrong track, Jesus. Okay, what can we do about it? How do we focus our energies now? What kind of work, what can kind of activity, what kind of striving pleases God? You say that we ought to work for this “forever food.” How do we go about that?

Have you ever wondered about these things? Have you ever felt as the rich young ruler must have felt when he came to Jesus one day and asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). Or have you ever been shaken like that jailer was in Philippi after the earthquake, when he said to Paul and Silas, “Men, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

These are the most natural questions in the world when we are really “up against it.” As long as things are going well, we don’t usually ask questions like these. We’re having a good time. We’re on a promising career path, perhaps, pursuing a dream. But it’s when we find that those sought-for goals don’t really satisfy us when we reach them, or when we’ve lost something tremendously important in life, or when we come up against our own limitations or find ourselves out of control, making a mess of things, that we raise a question like this with an edge of desperation to it, “What are we going to do?”

I don’t know why it seems to be so deeply ingrained in us, but it is, this idea that we have to do something to be pleasing to God. When people begin to ask, “What must I do to be right with God?” some religionists sometimes are quick to say, “You have to observe these rites and ceremonies.” The philosopher may recommend reading the world’s great books. The moralist will tell you just which commands or principles you have to obey and how.

The great reformer Martin Luther went through a period of frenzied religious activity in his life, trying hard to make himself acceptable to God. If it was living as a monk that was needed, he would outdo all others in monkery. If it meant fasting and self-denial, offerings and pilgrimages, he was ready to do any of these to find a gracious God. And yet nothing that he did, however sincere, however severe, brought him peace. He was asking, almost as a man crazed, “What can I possibly do to please God, to win His favor, to be living as He wants?”

THE ONE THING NEEDED

Jesus had an answer for those who questioned Him by the lake side that day. He had an answer for anguished souls like the jailer and Luther the monk. And if we’re even beginning to ask questions like these ourselves, He has an answer for you and me. Here it is: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” They wondered about works, plural, all kinds of things they needed to do. Jesus talked about work, singular, the one thing needful. They looked on themselves as earning, perhaps, some kind of reward. Jesus talked about God’s bestowing a gift. And what was the one thing they needed to do to receive the gift? Believe. Believe in the One whom God had sent. Believe in Jesus.

What does it mean, we wonder, to believe in Jesus? To accept what He says as true? That’s surely part of it. To endorse His claims about Himself as the Son of God and the Savior? Yes. But believing in someone goes deeper, doesn’t it? It talks about personal trust. When we read how the Book of Proverbs describes a good and godly wife, here’s one of the most beautiful things said: “the heart of her husband trusts in her” (Prov. 31:11). Now that trust means more than his knowing certain things about her or believing that she reports facts accurately. A husband trusting in his wife means that he counts on her to be faithful to him, true to their marriage covenant. He trusts her love to endure, that she will always be there for him, will do what she can to help and comfort him. Though everyone else should let him down, that wife of his can be counted on to the end.

You trust a friend when you share an important confidence and are certain she won’t gossip about it. You trust a surgeon when you commit yourself to his expert care. You trust a guide that he’ll lead you to safety instead of to danger and death. And you trust in Jesus Christ when you put your life and destiny completely in His hands, when you rely on Him to be your Savior, your strength, your guide. And that, He assures us, that trust, is the one thing needed.

Does that mean, then, that you simply believe and do nothing? Relax, sit around, and wait for heaven? No. Far from that. Christians are to abound in good works. And in the long history of the Christian church, it has often been those who most wholeheartedly believed in this Jesus who have made the most telling difference in the world. But good works are not the root of faith but the fruit. They don’t qualify us to believe; they testify that we have believed. Again, it’s a matter of what comes first.

In one way, believing in Jesus is the very opposite of meritorious service on our part. Involved in trusting Christ for our salvation is renouncing all trust in ourselves. It’s admitting that we can’t do it on our own, that we need Him. It’s acknowledging that if left to ourselves, we are lost and that we are depending on Jesus to do for us what only He can do. It’s placing our confidence, not in ourselves and anything we may have done but only and completely in Him and in what He did for us once for all by His life and death and rising again.

Then, when we have believed in Jesus Christ, and committed our lives to His lordship, the really good works can begin. We do them now, not in a feverish effort to win God’s favor but in the grateful awareness that He loves us and has given us eternal life in Christ His Son. God’s own Spirit now lives within our lives to inspire, encourage and empower us for a new kind of life.

There’s plenty of good to do in this world providing for human need, relieving the suffering of afflicted ones, seeking for justice, proclaiming the gospel to all. But all that comes best when we have cast off pretensions about our own performance, to rely completely on Jesus Christ as the One who makes us acceptable to God.

According to Jesus, the food that endures to eternal life is God’s gift. It’s not the manna that appeared in the wilderness or some other heavenly substance. It’s the One who called Himself the bread of life. It’s Jesus Christ Himself. He is God’s great gift to the world. We celebrate that in the most loved of all Bible verses, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The bread of life, the living water, the food that endures, those are all names for the Lord Himself.

What He said by blue Galilee that day was this, “Don’t make your main pursuit in life to be eating and drinking, getting and having.” Those things surely, obviously, have their place. But prize above everything else God’s great gift of love in Jesus Christ His Son. And if you really want to do the works of God, if you seek to live a life that pleases God, here’s how you begin, with simple trust in the One He sent to be your Savior.

Prayer: Father, teach us all what is really important in life, and as we seek to know You and be on good terms with You, may we realize that everything begins with trusting in Your dear Son. In Jesus’ name. Amen.