“Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew….” (John 6:15)
This verse provides a clue as to why God seems withdrawn from us sometimes, and how we find Him when he seems withdrawn.
Consider the context in which the verse quoted above appears. A large crowd was following Jesus because of the signs He was performing on the sick. Jesus healed the sick everywhere he went, and Jesus was becoming quite the attraction.
When he saw the crowd follow him up the mountain where He was sitting with His disciples, Jesus asked Philip what they had to feed the crowd. Andrew chimed in that a boy had five loaves of bread and two fish. We know the story: Jesus fed the whole crowd, and the disciples gathered up baskets of leftovers when they were done.
Of course, the crowd was amazed. They were following him because of the healings. When Jesus turned fives loaves and two fish into a feast for a crowd, it must have caused quite a stir.
This is the point where we read, “Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew to the mountain by Himself.”
The crowd wanted to take Jesus by force! – as if Jesus, God in the flesh, could be taken over by men to do their bidding. The crowd wanted to make Him king – to put him in an earthly position of power over them. But Jesus came for a different purpose. He came to give His life for us.
How many times do we seek God for what we want, neglecting to consider whatever God’s purpose might be? What we want is usually focused on this life, here and now. Jesus has prepared rooms for us in heaven, and we want Him to fill up our man caves. We want secure homes, places of comfort, our own little castles on earth.
Jesus, of course, does sometimes meet our needs. He cares about our circumstances. We are even encouraged to ask for God’s help. He wants the driving focus of our lives, however, to be God the Father and His kingdom!
I see another parallel to this passage in John. We, in America, want Jesus to be our king. We want the United States of America to be a Christian nation and for God to rule over it. While there may be nothing inherently wrong with that desire, God has His own plans.
God has a different Kingdom to advance. He has a bigger plan. Just as Jesus came to do the will of the Father when He walked the earth (John 6:38), and it did not include setting up residence in an earthly palace; I do not believe that our primary focus should be on the politics of a nation. Our focus should be on the politics of God and His Kingdom.
When Jesus determined that the crowd wanted to make him king, he withdrew. When we attempt to hijack Jesus, the Gospel and the Church for our own purposes, even if it is to better society, Jesus withdraws! We will find ourselves alone, however noble or right or good our own purposes seem, when try to make God serve our own ends.
In this passage in John, the crowd caught up to Jesus the next day looking for more food, but Jesus did not provide what they were seeking. Instead, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:51)
This was too much for many of the crowd following Him. They were attracted by the signs and wonders; they liked the bread and fish Jesus fed them and wanted more; but they did not want what Jesus was offering – Himself.
As some of the crowd began grumbling about what Jesus was saying, He added “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves”; because, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:53, 56) “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63) Many in the crowd found these things too “difficult” and turned away.
Like the crowd, we often just want God to help us in the physical world in which we live; we want God to meet our fleshly needs, but no more. We want the appetizer, but we don’t want the main course.
God may provide that help. He may even do it with miraculous flair. If we seek to appropriate God and His goodness for our own ends, however, He withdraws, and we are left alone.
If we continue to seek God for our own ends, He will stop meeting those ends and challenge us to seek Him first. Many of us turn away at that point.
If we are not seeking God where He is and for who He is, we will not find Him. God wants to draw us in to Himself. He wants us to lift our eyes from this earthly realm to the heavenly realm. Jesus did what He saw the Father doing and exalted the Father; He wants us to follow Him in the same way.
God wants to draw us away from the flesh into the spirit. In the spirit we commune with God. God wants us to partake of Himself; and God willingly and generously gives Himself to us when we desire Him.
When God seems withdrawn from us, we need to consider whether we have been trying to appropriate God for our own ends, whether we have been seeking Him for our own purposes. When God seems withdrawn from us, that is time to turn from our own ways, our own desires, and to seek Him for His own sake. That is time to seek God in spirit. God will make Himself known when we seek Him where He is and allow Him to draw us to Himself.