Today we recognize the service and sacrifice of literally millions of men and women who took on military service in order that we should have freedom. There is no small contribution by any of them, and whether they served for a short time, a long time, gave their life or just their involvement, they are heroes, every last one of them.
One of the primary elements of their heroism, I believe, is that their selflessness on our behalf truly was that … selfless. By that I mean, their service was not offered in exchange for anything. That is, they did not serve expecting anything in return. Let’s face it, what exactly could any of us offer in exchange for what they have done? I mean, other than our eternal gratitude, which of course is nothing small. But truly, not even that was what motivated their putting their lives on the line for you and for me. There’s nothing we could do to measure up anyway.
It’s with this backdrop that I reflected on my reading this past week from John 6 through John 8. A passage … John 6:26-29 … struck me with particular note and I wanted to unpack it a little.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”
Now there are a number of incredibly important principles conveyed in these passages. But one fit the bill for me in a poignant way this week. First, let’s understand a little of the context here.
Jesus had just finished feeding multitudes with a little boy’s five loaves of bread and two fish. He had slipped away to Capernaum, and his disciples followed to try to find him. Soon after, the crowds also figured out where He was and they went over the Sea of Galilee to find Him. When they did, He was (as always) able to cut to the heart of why they were seeking Him so eagerly. And our Lord always has a way of making sure the object lesson for those around Him at the time are also able to provide us some spiritual nourishment too.
What hit me so hard about the discourse in this passage is how Jesus points out our typical human tendency of trying to do things for God; oftentimes it is in an attempt to earn what feels to us like good standing with the Lord, or to perhaps convince Him to do more for us. Either way, there’s a lesson for all of us to learn in it.
When the people asked, “What should we do,” it reminded me of the tendency I can have to expect that just because I did, or do, something, God owes me something in exchange. As if, I can somehow do enough, be (good) enough, or anything enough to warrant any response from Him. Bottom line … I (we) can’t.
But as far as earning a reward or response, what exactly could we do that would measure up sufficiently to equal our very life? Not just our temporal life here on earth, but our eternal life? That is what Jesus bought for us with His life, death, and resurrection. So, is there any amount of anything we could do or give that would be sufficient payment? Truly, even something less substantial than everything is equally out of reach of our ability to earn it. How can we earn anything in exchange from the Creator of the universe? I mean, seriously.
It’s the same thing as when we consider today, Memorial Day, in the US. When we consider the millions of men and women who gave their lives for our freedom and our country’s way of life, is there any way we could repay them? No doubt everyone loves being the recipient of gratitude, particularly a day where that gratitude is corporately expressed by the entirety of a nation. But does that expression of gratitude sufficiently pay back what cost they bore on our behalf? I can’t imagine any way it could be. Of course, that’s not the point of today, but the example holds.
And yet, the same spirit of gratitude is analogous and helpful. Because, Jesus reminds us that there is something we can affirmatively do … something that God wants from us. And it derives from a heart of gratitude. Gratitude shown NOT by something we can do … but gratitude for what Jesus has already done.
Jesus tells us exactly how we can express that gratitude, and it’s the ONLY thing that the Bible tells us can gain anything in exchange from God.
Jesus says, in John 6:29 … “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” The Greek word for “believe” in this instance means “to place one’s confidence in; to trust.” From other areas of scripture, we can clearly see that if we believe in Jesus (if we place our confidence in Him, if we trust in Him), we can gain everything … life, eternally … and meaning, fulfillment, context, and joy in our lives here temporally.
And what is it we are told to believe? That Jesus lived as fully God and fully man, that He sacrificially laid down His life, suffered and died in full payment of the penalty of our sins, and demonstrated that He was God by conquering death three days after crucifixion killed Him. If we believe that (in the Biblical Greek definition of believe) we gain everything.
So, when we’re tempted in our humanness to try to bargain with God, to figure out how we can do something to gain His favor or His fulfilling of a request, let’s remember that all He wants in exchange from us is our belief … our trust … our commitment … our confidence … our wholehearted reliance.
Nothing else we say, do, promise, etc., could ever earn us anything in exchange. But by what Jesus has done we can gain everything. It isn’t about doing, doing, doing … it’s about what’s been done.
There ought to be a day dedicated to that, too.