“Has anybody seen him?”
“I saw him last evening when he told us to go home and then went up into the hills to pray.”
“Maybe we should have gone home,” one of the militia members said as he stretched in the cool morning air. “I’m gettin’ hungry again.”
“We just need to find the Teacher,” the one who seemed to be taking change announced. “He fed us once; he’ll do it again.”
“He ain’t here!” a voice shouted from the top of the hill where Jesus had gone to pray.
“His disciples ain’t here either, Amos,” another of the soldiers observed.
“The Teacher up an’ sent them back to Capernaum last evening by theirselves,” the leader answered. “But Jesus didn’t go with them.”
“Maybe he slipped off during the night and joined them.”
“You’re probably right,” Amos agreed. “Sooner or later a teacher would join back up with his disciples. Let’s head to Capernaum. See if some of you fellows can get them fishin’ boats’ attention. We’ll get them to take us back across the sea.”
Between the small crowd of fishing boats and those who had to make the long walk back around the north end of the sea, the army of hungry men found their way to Capernaum. They eventually found Jesus and His disciples on their way to the synagogue.
“TEACHER! TEACHER!” several of them yelled when they caught sight of him. Jesus turned to face them as they ran up. “When did you get here?”
Jesus looked suspiciously at the mass of eager, grinning faces. Finally He said, “I’m telling you the truth—the absolute truth, it’s not because of the signs that you’re seeking Me, but because I fed you. Don’t waste your time working for food which perishes. There is food which endures to eternal life. That’s the food that God the Father sent Me here to give you.”
“That’s what we want, Master!” Amos nodded at the others. “You feed us, an’ we’ll do the work. Just show us the works God wants us to do, and we’re your men!” As he said this, he tapped the handle of the sword in his belt.
“You don’t get it,” Jesus returned. “Believing in Him Whom the Father has sent—THAT is the work God wants you to be doing!”
“Well, alright!” Amos agreed. “We’ll believe in you. Won’t we, men? Just give us a sign. Perform some miracle, and we’ll believe. So…what’re you gonna do? You know, our fathers ate manna in the wilderness.”
“Yeah,” another agreed, “the Scripture says He gave them bread out of heaven to eat. And we are all hungry…again.”
“You’re still talking about food that doesn’t last,” Jesus argued. “I’m telling you the truth—the absolute truth: it wasn’t Moses who gave you the REAL bread. My Father in heaven is giving you the TRUE bread from heaven.”
“What’s the difference?” Amos asked with a confused look.
“The real bread of God,” the Teacher answered, “which comes down out of heaven actually gives life to the world.”
“That sounds good enough for us,” Amos returned, the grin back on his face as he licked his lips. “We’ll take THAT bread.”
Jesus looked at them and slowly shook his head. “I AM the bread of life! He who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. How can you be My followers since you have even seen Me and yet you don’t believe?”
“We’re here, ain’t we?” Amos shot back, getting annoyed.
“You didn’t come for Me,” Jesus returned. “You came for food. All that the Father gives Me shall come to ME, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out, because I have come down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of Him Who sent Me. You’re here to get Me to do your will. You’re not even interested in the Father’s will.”
“So what is the Father’s will?” Amos asked.
“The will of Him Who sent me is that, of all the Father has given Me, I lose nothing but will raise it up on the last day.”
“What are you talking about?” Amos shot back.
“Here it is,” Jesus returned confidently, “this is the will of My Father: that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life; and I myself shall raise him up on the last day.” As Jesus finished these words, He turned and led His disciples into the synagogue.
“What in the world is he saying, Amos?” one of the militia asked.
“That’s crazy,” said another. “What does he mean, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven?’”
“Yeah, an’ I’m still hungry!” cried another.
“He didn’t come down out of heaven,” someone added. “We know this guy! He’s just the carpenter from Nazareth. I know his parents!”
“Come on, fellows,” Amos said as he started for the synagogue. “Let’s find out what he’s trying to prove.”
Jesus, as a visiting Teacher, had been invited to speak at the synagogue, but He had hardly taken His seat in front when some of the irritated militia troops pushed their way in. Jairus, one of the rulers of the Capernaum synagogue, tried to quiet the unruly crowd.
Finally Jesus’s strong voice carried over the noise. “Don’t grumble among yourselves about who you think I am! Not one of you can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws you. But if God does draw you to Me, I will raise you up on the last day.”
“Why would God draw us to you?” one of them called out. “You ain’t no real king! You’re just a carpenter!”
“Because it is written in the prophets,” Jesus answered, “And they shall all be taught of God. That means that everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”
“But why you?” someone asked skeptically.
“Because no one has seen the Father except the One who came from Him. When the Father draws people, He draws them to the One Who has seen Him and knows Him.
“You think you know Me, and you think you know what the King will be like, but I’m telling you the truth—the absolute truth: it’s not what you think you know about Me that brings you life. It is the one who believes in Who I Am that has eternal life!”
“So who are you?” Amos shot back.
“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE! You men are still looking for food! You say you want manna. Well, your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. I am a different bread that has come down from heaven, so that one may eat of this bread and not die, and the bread also that I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh!”
“WHAT? How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” someone shouted. More grumbling and arguing broke out.
With a grimace Judas leaned over and whispered, “Rock, even you have to admit this sounds crazy.”
“I’M TELLING YOU THE TRUTH—THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH,” Jesus shouted to get their attention, “UNLESS YOU EAT THE FLESH OF THE SON OF MAN AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, YOU HAVE NO LIFE IN YOURSELVES.” Jesus was looking at His disciples as He said this and clearly intended the message for them.
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day!” Jesus could clearly see the confused looks on the faces of all of His followers, so He added for emphasis, “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”
Realizing He was bringing His disciples to a crisis of faith, Jesus spoke directly to them, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me; he also shall live BECAUSE of Me.”
Looking out at the rest of the crowd in the synagogue, Jesus patted his chest and said, “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died, he who eats THIS bread shall live forever!”
“That’s it!” announced Amos loudly as he stood up to leave. “I’ve heard enough of this man’s crazy talk. Let’s go home!” Most everyone seemed to take that as signal that the meeting was over because the synagogue began to empty.
As Jesus finished talking with some of the Jewish leaders, Eliezer walked up to the twelve. “I’m sorry, Rock,” Eliezer began, “but many of my friends and I are going back home.”
“But you’re disciples,” John, who was standing nearby, said. “Aren’t you going to follow the Teacher anymore?”
“I’m sorry, young one,” Eliezer answered, turning to John. “The Teacher has power, and I guess He’s from God, but these sayings of His are just too hard. My friends and I can’t seem to make sense out of His teachings.”
“Do My teachings cause you to stumble?” Jesus, Who had just joined them, said in response to Eliezer’s words. “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending back to the Father? Would you believe My teachings then?”
“Teacher,” Eliezer began, trying to find his words, “You can do some amazing things, and maybe God did send you. But we came looking for the Messiah, a king, an’ to be honest, you don’t act like that.”
“You’re trying to make sense of Me in your fleshly thinking, Eliezer,” Jesus returned. “The flesh profits nothing. It is the Spirit Who gives life. The words that I have spoken to you, as hard as they may be to hear, are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe,” Jesus said, glancing at Judas.
It was a sad exodus as they watched Eliezer and others of their number leave. In the end the only ones left were Jesus and the twelve.
“That’s why I said that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father,” the Teacher added.
The discouragement among the twelve was palpable as they watched everyone disappear in the distance.
This was the moment Jesus had been waiting for. “Do you also want to go away?”
The silence was deafening as everyone realized that Jesus was forcing them to make a choice. In the last two days the disciples had seen Jesus do two amazing miracles, but they had also been very disappointed at how Jesus chose to respond to the army and with His choice of words in the synagogue.
Finally Rock spoke up. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Only You have the words of eternal life. We have believed, and by now we have come to actually know that You are the Holy One of God.”
As the Teacher looked around at His followers, He saw most of them giving nods of agreement. “Did I not choose the twelve of you, and yet even one of you is a devil?”
As Jesus walked away, He led eleven committed but confused disciples in His wake. One was not confused or committed. Judas knew exactly who Jesus meant.
By Alan W. Harris
(Inspired by John 6:22-71)