Where’s the Beef?
Reading: John 4:31-34
The 1984 Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?”, has had lasting impact on our culture, leaving us with this phrase now used to question the real substance of anything. But long before Wendy’s asked this question, Jesus answered it. Jesus told us where the “beef” – the real substance that satisfies our deepest need and desire – is.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:31-34 NIV)
Food satisfies one of our deepest needs and one of our strongest desires. Hunger is the need that food satisfies and is the desire which it was intended to satisfy. (Gluttony is using food to satisfy other desires when hunger has long since passed.) Jesus is saying that there is something else which satisfies His deepest need and strongest desire. By way of implication, the same ought to be true of us.
This scene began at the end of a long journey, with Jesus weary from the travels, and the disciples leaving Him at this well while they went into the city to buy food. Meanwhile a woman from the city comes out to draw water. She and Jesus have a discussion about her real need and the Living Water which He can give her. When the disciples return they have food and urge him to eat, maybe something like an Italian mother does her sons when the pasta is on the table.
Jesus had neither slept nor eaten and yet He says that He has food they don’t know about. In other words, “My desires and needs have been met by something you don’t know about.” They wondered among themselves if someone had brought Him food. Ironically, He had been busy giving out water… Living Water. This was the work which the Father had sent Him there to do and He was satisfied in both doing and finishing, or completing, the work. He did the work that day, but He had not yet completed it.
Jesus continues to mention His resolution to “finish” or, “complete,” the work which the Father had sent Him to do in John’s Gospel.
“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36 NIV)
I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:4)
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28 NIV)
Jesus was doing the work the Father sent Him to do throughout His earthly ministry, but it wasn’t finished until he had gone to the cross. In John 4, Jesus knew that something greater than earthly satisfactions would have to satisfy His needs and desires if He were doing to continue to do the Father’s work, and especially if He was going to complete the work, or finish the race. For Him the race involved suffering, and if one does not have something deeper, or greater, than earthly delights to satisfy the deepest needs and longings of our lives, endurance will not go very deep.
Paul had this same value system; he too had found the beef, the substance that truly s
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 ESV)
Paul knew that in order to finish the race and the work Christ had given Him, he must undergo suffering. Although many had urged him not to go to Jerusalem because of this, he thinks differently. He has a different value system. He has food that we often know too little about. His desires, like Jesus Himself, were satisfied in the doing and completing Christ’s work. For Paul, the beef was in his relationship to Christ. He says it again in his letter to the an>
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12 NIV)
Here the verb for finish or complete is translated, “arrived at my goal”. What drove Paul to complete the work was that he wanted to grasp that very purpose for which Christ grasped him. Doing the work of Christ trumped doing the work of Paul’s life. Jesus hadn’t intervened in Paul’s life to fulfill Paul’s purpose, but to radically alter Paul’s course and take hold of Paul’s life for His own purpose.
Jesus and Paul understood that if all we have are earthly delights to satisfy our deep needs and desires, no matter how legitimate they are, we will eventually quit the race—we won’t complete the work. Earthly desires, even legitimate ones like hunger or thirst, will eventually drive us away from doing God’s will (Galatians 5:17). We must find the something greater which satisfies our deepest needs and longings.
If you haven’t received the Living Water from Jesus, that is the starting place. But even those who have received it must still develop an appetite for spiritual things. This happens as we spend time hearing from the Savior in His Word, and as we draw close to Him in prayer. It can’t be done apart from these. We have a work to finish (Ephesians 2:10). Prayer and the Word are not the work but are essential to us if we are going to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,