John 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Jesus had given the crowd the slip by miraculously crossing the lake at night, on foot. They have finally caught up with him, but now Jesus accuses them of seeking him out only to avoid labouring for food. So there are some interrelated themes in play: hunger, bread, work and God’s approval.
Someone in the crowd asks the question, “What does God want from us? What should we do?”
Jesus’ reply is direct but opaque. “The work of God is to believe the One he has sent.” The crowd understand that Jesus is referring to himself so they ask for a ‘sign’ to demonstrate that he really is from God, so that they will believe him. None of this makes sense because they are the same 5000 people whom Jesus has just fed in the desert with 5 loaves and 2 fish! And then he’s walked across the lake, literally. What more of a ‘sign’ could they want?
Their reference to manna in the wilderness in v31 seems to imply that the crowd were not ‘convinced’ by Jesus’ effort with the loaves and fishes. They hold that Moses did it better with manna– freshly delivered every day. They were now hungry again. And so they are really saying to Jesus, “If you want us to believe you, you’ll have to exceed the works of Moses.”
But Jesus refuses to be put up against Moses in a comparison test. In verses 32-33 he contends that the exodus manna came not from Moses but from God in heaven. By definition, ‘signs’ are the work of God, not mortals. He is the same God who now has provided Jesus– the true bread that comes from heaven. And he is the bread that gives life that endures into the Age. Therefore, in response to God’s working, the work of people is to believe him.
While the crowd don’t fully understand, they still want ‘in’. Bread that is gifted from God to give life– that is the bread they always want. Whatever that means… Clarification will be required.
Lord, ‘believing’ does not seem like work. Sometimes I just want something concrete to do, a task to complete, an assignment to finish– then I will have satisfied you. But you call me to more. You want me to believe you for all that you are: sent from God, bearing his authority, the source of life. Lord, let me live this way. Let me do the work that this faith produces. Amen.