Most of us recognize that we all have a deep spiritual need that only something beyond this world can meet. When life is going well, sometimes an emptiness still nags at our souls. Spiritual questions, however, often fade when physical needs become severe. We need to eat. We need to see. We need our hearts to beat properly. How do spiritual needs relate to these urgent physical needs?
The miracles that John records in chapters 6, 9 and 11 of his Gospel answer this question. In chapter 6, Jesus feeds thousands of hungry people with only five barley loaves and two fish. In chapter 9, He gives sight to a man who was born blind. In chapter 11, He brings His friend Lazarus back from the dead.
Notice a few important aspects of these miracles. First, they are very impressive. Only a few loaves feed thousands of people. The blind man has never been able to see until Jesus comes. Lazarus had been dead for four days (11:39). In other words, John makes it clear that these miracles were something far more than sniffles or a slight headache.
Second, none of these miracles convince everyone to believe in Jesus. The crowd Jesus fed demands another miracle (6:30), and some people even quit following Him (6:66). The parents of the blind man won’t testify about Jesus. Although the man himself believes in Jesus, by the end of the story he experiences the socially crippling consequence of being excluded from synagogue life (9:34). After Lazarus returns from the grave, leaders are plotting to kill both Jesus and him (12:10).
If the primary purpose of these miracles was to convince everyone of Jesus’ identity, then He clearly failed. It’s important to remember, however, that John never uses the word “miracle.” He always calls these events “signs” (John 12:37), and a sign points to a further truth.
John lets us know what these truths are by including several statements Jesus makes that begin with Him saying, “I am … .” After feeding thousands, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (6:35). Before healing the blind man, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (8:12), and before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25).
The signs point to who He is. Jesus didn’t come simply to extend forever the type of life that we have now so that we would never get hungry, need glasses or write a will. He came to give us an altogether different and better sort of life. With resurrected bodies, we will no longer have to deal with the issues of physical hunger, sight or death. But eternal life begins now. Because He is the resurrection and the life, we who believe in Him experience the sort of life that makes everything else look like death. Because He is the light of the world, we see forever what matters most and what is most glorious. Because He is the bread of life broken for us, we live a new type of life forever.
If Christ does not return within our lifetimes, we will lose our appetites. The eyes that we depend on so dearly now will stop working, and our hearts will no longer beat. Yet we need not fear the day those things happen.