Large crowds followed Jesus, not because they recognized his majesty or craved his life-altering words, but first because his signs amazed them (John 6:2), and then because he fed them (John 6:26).
The signs were to lead them to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, which would lead them to eternal life (John 20:30, 31). The bread in their bellies should have opened their hearts to the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27, 35, 41, 48, 51). In their eyes, Jesus was great because he helped them. When the food ran out or the miracles finished, their service ceased.
Are we that much different?
Ask yourself these questions: Why do I serve God? Why do I praise him? Why do I love Jesus? Do I serve God because of what he gives or because of who he is?
I posit that our motivation for service matters. It is possible to serve the right God in the right way for the wrong reasons.
God is not great because of what he gives. God is great because of who he is. God gives because he is great, and what God gives is great because he is great.
It is natural for us to be drawn to God because of what he has done. Faith is informed, not blind. One must know to believe. And God reveals himself, at least in part, through his gifts.
Those seven signs recorded in John were bigger than the acts themselves. Healing a lame man was not just for the physical benefit of one man. Raising Lazarus was more than just restoring temporal life to a friend.
These acts were accomplished to draw people to Jesus — without the signs, Jesus wouldn’t have the crowds. But more than that, these signs were designed to show people who Jesus was. His nature, his power, his mercy, his love, his character should be seen in these acts.
What happens when the gifts of God are not what we expect or seem to vanish altogether? What happens when our perception of God’s gifts change? Do we still serve him? What happened to many of Jesus’ followers when he didn’t feed them and they became disillusioned with what he preached? They followed him no longer (John 6:60, 66).
Abraham received a promised child from God (Genesis 21:1-3), and then was willing to give him up (Genesis 22:1-18). If we serve the blessing, we would be tempted to question God, to refuse his request, to blame him for our loss. Abraham served the Blesser.
Paul experienced hardship, persecution, and rejection. He learned contentment (Philippians 4:11, 12). He served the Giver not the gifts.
It is natural for us to begin our journey by loving and serving God because of what he gives. The challenge is to grow in our faith as Abraham did (Romans 4:16-25), so that we are not moved when challenges arise.
While he gives great gifts, our God is great not because of the blessings he bestows, but because of the character he possesses.
Do you have faith in the gifts or the Giver, in the blessings or the Blesser? It is a distinction that can make all the difference.