“What Must We Do? Believe!” – John 6:28,29
11 th Sunday After Pentecost – August 5, 2018
Introduction: Significant Questions
What is one of the most significant questions you’ve ever been asked?
Will you marry me? When can you start? What have you done?
Questions (and their answers) can change your life. Questions can probe the depths of your soul.
Questions can challenge you and make you wonder why you are doing something. Questions can
uncover your moral failings.
1. Significant Questions from God
What are some of the significant questions that God / Jesus asked?
To Adam (hiding among Eden’s trees): “Where are you?” (implying “What have you done?”)
To Elijah (hiding in a cave): “What are you doing here?” (implying “I have work for you to do.”)
To Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” (implying “What do you
To a 38-year-long paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda: “Do you want to get well?” (meaning
“Do you want to get well?” and “I can do something about that!”)
To disciples: “Who do you say I am?” (implying “What do you really believe about me?”)
To Peter: “Do you truly love me?” (implying “Is your heart with me?”)
2. Significant Questions to Jesus
There were lots of significant questions asked of Jesus, too.
Nicodemus: “How can a man be born again when he is old?” (not understanding Baptism)
Samaritan woman: “Where can you get this living water?” (demonstrating a spiritual thirst)
Pharisees: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?” (a trick question that Jesus had a wise response to)
Disciples: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (not fully
understanding the complexities of sin)
Pilate: “What is truth?” (in pre-sentencing conversation with Jesus about truth and justice)
3. Most Significant Question: “What must I do…?”
Most significant question asked of Jesus: “What must I do to be saved?” (asked a few times, in
different ways, and even asked after Jesus’ ascension in the Book of Acts)
Mark 10 – Rich young man (Jesus’ answer: “keep the commandments.” Man’s response: “I
have.” Jesus’ clarification: “you’re missing the ‘loving God’ part.”)
Luke 10 – Expert in the law (Jesus’ answer: “You’re an expert, what do you think?” Expert:
“Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus’ response: “Good answer,” and then He told the
parable of the Good Samaritan implying “you’re missing the ‘love your neighbor’ part.”)
Acts 2 (Pentecost) – after Peter’s sermon accusing the people in Jerusalem of killing Jesus, they
were cut to the heart and asked “What shall we do? What shall we do to be saved?” (Peter,
discerning that they were already believing: “Repent and be baptized. Be forgiven. Come into
Acts 16 (Paul & Philippian jailer) – “What must I do to be saved?” (Paul’s answer: “Believe in
the Lord Jesus.”)
4. John 6 – “What must we do…?”
So here in John 6 we have one more example of that question. The people had recently
experienced Jesus’ miracle of multiplying bread and fish in the feeding of the 5,000. Between
that story and this one, Jesus takes His nocturnal walk on the water to his disciples fearing for
their lives in a boat on the rough and stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd of people
had followed Jesus, and He was about to give His “I am the Bread of Life” speech. It’s in this
little pre-speech dialog that Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that
endures to eternal life.” Then comes their question: “What must we do to do the works God
That betrays a common attitude – an attitude prevalent in Jesus’ day, and one that still exists in
our 21 st century religious milieu. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish religious leaders endorsed the idea that
you had to do something, you had to follow all of God’s rules if you wanted to get into God’s
good book, if you wanted to get to heaven. And they came up with a whole host of other rules to
make sure that you didn’t break God’s rules. And that’s why they ostracized obvious sinners, the
rule-breakers. They didn’t do what God required. They didn’t follow God’s rules. And that’s
why those religious leaders criticized Jesus. He was considered to be a rabbi, but He broke the
Sabbath laws, and He hung around with those obvious sinners, and He didn’t teach what they
taught. If you’re not good enough, you’re not going to make it with God – that was the bottom
The same attitude was common in the 16 th century, in Martin Luther’s time. The church was
teaching that you had to do things – to worship religious relics, to buy indulgences, to do or say
certain things after your confession of sins, to sponsor masses for your dead loved ones, to
financially support the building of St. Peter’s Church in Rome – you had to do these things in
order to get into heaven, or at least into purgatory.
And the climate has not changed much in our day. “What must we do to do the works God
requires?” Some religious groups answer that question saying:
“You must marry the right person.”
“You must tithe your income to the church.”
“You must earn points with God by doing good works, by peddling the teachings in public.”
“You must not play cards, or go to movies, or drink alcohol, or dance.”
“You must take a spiritual pilgrimage at least once in your lifetime.”
Without one of those things, or a combination of those things, you are not doing the works God
requires, and you have no hope of heaven.
Has that attitude crept into your life? Do you have a sense that you must do something, or not do
some things in order to do the works of God and to find favour with God? What’s going to get
you into heaven? Sitting in the pew at least 3 Sundays a month? Serving on a board or committee
at the church? Refraining from bad language? Basically keeping the Ten Commandments?
Having a religious experience, like speaking in tongues? Sponsoring a needy child overseas?
Giving an honest day’s work for a day’s wage? Being a caring mother or a loving husband?
“What must we do to do the works God requires?” is an age-old human question – a question
that focuses on making one’s self right with God. And that is a misdirected focus.
5. Jesus’ Answer
Jesus’ answer to the question was simple and profound at the same time: “Believe in the one He
has sent.” Pretty simple! (Oh, and notice that that was exactly the same response as the one Paul
gave to the Philippian jailer!)
Believe! Believe in the one God has sent. Jesus’ answer slyly pointed to Himself. He was the one
God had sent – in the holy manger of Bethlehem, in the Baptismal waters of the Jordan, in the
miraculous multiplying of bread and fish. He was the Bread of Life, satisfying the spiritual
hunger, quenching the spiritual thirst of all who come to Him.
“To believe,” Jesus said, “is the true work of God for us.” And yet it’s not so much a work as a
gift. And that’s where Jesus’ answer gets profound. St. Paul would later write in his letter to the
Ephesians that “we are saved by grace through faith” and that faith, itself, is a gift from God.
Believe, have faith, trust, receive God’s grace – that is the “work” that God requires of us. But
that “work” is based on God’s proper work for us, on our behalf. God’s work for us occurred
primarily when that Jesus went to the cross for us, innocently, sinlessly, sacrificially. That was
Jesus’ mission, His proper work on earth. He healed, He taught, He counseled, He did
multiplying miracles. Those things pointed to Jesus’ work of defeating evil and reconciling
people with God, but all those things were secondary to His saving work on the cross for you.
That’s where He fully and finally defeated the forces of evil. At different times, He explained
His mission: “I have come to seek and to save the lost.” “I have come that they may have full
and abundant life.” “I have come to give my life as a ransom for many.” In His death, Jesus’
work was to forgive you all your sins – even your sins of thinking that you have to do something,
you have to earn something, you have to be good enough or do good enough in order to do the
works God requires and gain His favour. All your sins are forgiven… thanks to Jesus!
In His death, Jesus’ work was to save you for all eternity. Later in Jesus’ Bread of Life speech,
He would say “everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I
will raise him up at the last day.” His resurrection in the past signals our resurrection in the
The work of God was Jesus’ saving work on the cross. Our work, our response is simply to
believe, to believe in the one God sent for our salvation!
You see, there is a difference between what God has done and what we must do. God has
sacrificed His own Son for you. All you do is trust and receive God’s grace in Christ.
6. What we must do / what we get to do
There is also a difference between what we must do and what we get to do. “What we must do”
is language of requirement, of necessity, of obligation. “What we get to do” is language of
privilege, of freedom, of opportunity. So, when Paul wrote in Ephesians 2 that “we are saved by
grace through faith – the gift of God” he concluded his thought by saying that “we are God’s
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to
So, it’s no longer what must we do in order to get to heaven, but what we get to do because
we’re going to heaven. The interesting thing is that the answer is similar, while the motivation is
completely different. We do get to love God with our entire being – that’s our privilege because
we are in a saving relationship with Him. We do get to worship God regularly, and give our
offerings from a thankful heart, and serve on a board or committee as a way to express our
gratitude to God for His grace in Jesus.
We do get to love our neighbor – that’s our opportunity because we are sinners just like they are,
and they are experiencing life’s hardships just like we are.
We do get to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” as it says in Micah 6.
That’s our freedom as a forgiven child of God.
We do get to follow the Ten Commandments – not because we have to, but because we want to,
because we know that they are God’s precious gifts for us as we live in relationship with Him
We do get to joyfully engage in spiritual conversations with others, and to sponsor a needy child,
and to carry out our careers with integrity, and to live out our family relationships with God-
But none of those things get you into heaven. What God really wants of us is simply a living
faith in His Son, who is the bread of life, who satisfied and continues to satisfy the hungers and
the thirsts of our souls. Amen.