The challenge of preaching is that your preaching is challenging. They say that when you point the finger there are four pointing back at you (or at least 3 fingers and a thumb!). When you stand with a microphone and the responsibility to voice what God is wanting to say to that group of people on that evening through that particular passage – then every word you utter resonates straight back in your heart too. At least I hope and pray that it will never be otherwise!
On Sunday I preached a message that hit me with a challenge that will resonate for some time to come. This isn’t a comment on the quality of the preach, but rather the significance of the word God gave me to speak. You can listen to it here, but this is the crux….Is Jesus enough? Just Him, not what He brings, gives or is able to do, but simply Him? Whether we understand or not, even when the way he seems to act (or fail to do so) offends our sense of what he should do…is he still enough?
My text was John 6:25-40 – a conversation including Jesus’ famous declaration that “I am the bread of life!” But what struck me is how this conversation is Jesus returning to the crowd he withdrew from at the start of the chapter in order to give them another chance to invite him in.
You see, the chapter starts with the feeding of the 5,000. There is a crowd of thousands in a remote place and hungry. So Jesus feeds them with a little boy’s packed lunch. Jesus isn’t just generous and offers to buy everyone dinner, he does something totally beyond, something utterly unexpected. Jesus doesn’t play by the rules we play by, he doesn’t even bend them slightly, rather it’s like he’s playing a totally different game.
Yet the crowd miss the point. Confronted with a miracle that’s meant to be a sign, to be evidence of who Jesus is, they miss the invitation to receive Jesus and they simply see the free lunch. They search around for some concept within their understanding of life with which to label Jesus. They call him the ‘Prophet’ they’re expecting – not God himself come in human form – and then they try to control. We read that they wanted to sieze Jesus and make him King. So Jesus withdrew.
You see Jesus didn’t come to help us play the game of life better, to live a better life. He came to give us a new life, to bring us into a new game, to enable us to live by different rules – where God himself is with us, our Father, our faithful provider. Yet so often when we experience something of God’s power or an answer to prayer, we focus on the gift not the Giver, we seek to maintain life as we know it and simply add God on top. We tame God with a label we understand and seek to control. Jesus withdraws.
The very next event is another miracle. The disciples are in a boat in the middle of the lake and a storm has arisen. Jesus doesn’t just swim out like a hero to help them, he walks on the water towards them. He plays by different rules. The disciples are terrified, but all they need is Jesus to say ‘It is I’ and they invite him into the boat. They don’t wait for a deeper explanation, to understand fully, to know what to do. All they need is to know it is Jesus and they invite him in. We’re told that immediately they reached the other side. By inviting Jesus in they find themselves playing the other game, His game, with different rules.
The conversation Jesus has is him giving the crowd another opportunity. He challenges them to lift their eyes from ‘food that spoils’ and to see the ‘food that lasts to eternal life’ right in front of them. He explains that the only work they do is to believe in and receive Jesus. To let Jesus in. When they ask for a sign his message is simple – you’ve seen enough already – I’m here. God himself has come in human form and stands in front of you – you’ve seen enough to know I’m good – all that remains is to invite me in.
I’m challenged. How many times have I seen God move, experienced incredible provision, seen physical healing, known emotional change in my own heart? And yet I’ve quickly focused on that provision not the Provider. I’ve wanted Jesus so long as he continues to do what he has always done. I’ve gained some understanding of how God works and I’m happy for Him to do so within those boundaries…but I don’t want anything that disrupts my grasp on how life works, on how God works.
Sometimes when it seems that God has stopped doing what He once did the issue is that we’ve started to control, to focus on that particular provision, to limit what God is allowed to do in our lives. We’ve focussed on gift not Giver and so the Giver withdraws. The incredible news is that He’ll always give us another chance – but are we open to the conversation? To the challenge of our understanding and priorities that centers on the one simple question: is Jesus enough? If we had nothing else, if He ceased to do all that we’ve known Him do before, if He gave us only himself – is Jesus enough?
The disciples amaze me. After many have left because the conversation was so offensive, Jesus asks if they are leaving too. They reply: ‘To whom would we go?” These men left everything before they saw a single miracle, simply at the invitation to ‘come follow me’. They’ve gone so far that it doesn’t matter if they understand or not, if they like it or not, they have nowhere else to go but where Jesus is. I want to be in that place, to say ‘Jesus, you are enough, more than enough, no matter what – all I want is you.’
How about you?